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2012: Extreme Aims (get it?)

Today, the Democratic National Committee is announcing a campaign -- “Extreme Aims: Wrong for Seniors, Wrong for the Middle Class” – in the build-up to Saturday’s Ames Straw Poll.  “When it comes to the GOP presidential candidates and what America will hear from them in Ames this week, they have extreme aims to please the far-right, Tea Party wing of their party and they are following the extreme agenda of Congressional Republicans instead of leading,” the DNC says in an email. “All this while our country’s future hangs in the balance.”

The New Hampshire Democratic Party gets into the act, too. "Whether it is the candidates' Duck, Dodge, Dismantle proposal, the GOP budget that ends Medicare as we know it or their insistence on keeping tax cuts for corporate jet owners while shifting the burden to working families and seniors, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty are representing an agenda that is far outside the mainstream," NH Dem Party Chairman Ray Buckley plans to say in a memo to reporters. "Most egregiously, almost without exception the GOP presidential candidates would have allowed America to default on its obligations and send our economy into calamity rather than upset their Tea Party base."

BACHMANN: Newsweek releases Monday its cover story on Bachmann, entitled “Bachmann: Tea Party Queen.” 

The Des Moines Register files a story on Bachmann’s visit Sunday to the First Church of the Nazarene, in Des Moines, where Bachmann spoke about the origins of her faith and her life in politics.  The story focuses on Bachmann’s statement that “questionable materials” her foster children brought home from school pushed her into a five-year fight against federal control of education – which she blamed for “putting politically correct attitudes, values and beliefs into schools.” 

And, the New York Times ran a story Saturday that describes an element of theater at Bachmann events that distinguish her campaign events from others.

HUNTSMAN: Per NBC’s Ali Weinberg, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman yesterday urged a member of the audience at GOP Rep. Tim Scott’s presidential town hall in Charleston, SC, not to label him as a moderate. Before she asked her question, Debbie Jones first asked the audience to raise their hands if they were “Tea Party people.” (The town hall was co-sponsored by several local Tea Party groups). Most of the audience of approximately 200 people raised their hands.

Then Jones asked, “How many of you want somebody to run for president who is a moderate?” Only a few members of the audience raised their hands at that question. “Thank you,” she said before sitting down, acknowledging the disparity in the hands raised.

“Let me just tell you one thing,” Huntsman answered to the challenge. “I would point you to what the Wall Street Journal said recently. You know, everybody likes to put a label on somebody. I think that’s unfair. All I ask is that you look at my record.” When asked by NBC News after the town hall how he would appeal to Tea Party voters in the state, Huntsman simply said, “Just by being who I am.”

PAUL: The Paul campaign held a tele-town hall last night with supporters on the upcoming Ames Straw Poll, NBC’s Anthony Terrell reports. The campaign often reminded callers there were air-conditioned buses available with bathrooms on “nice charter buses,” and said there would be golf carts available from the parking lot to the tent for voters who need assistance. Congressman Paul then got on the call, telling supporters he will have 25 family members attending the straw poll, including his son, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul. The presidential candidate, Terrell adds, explained how important the straw poll was for candidates “who don’t have $100 million.” He stressed the campaign strategy was to run this, “as if it’s a small congressional race,” not a national campaign. “It’s an Iowa campaign.”

PERRY: The Texas governor got a wildly enthusiastic response from the tens of thousands who attended “The Response,” but he steered away from politics during his address to the crowd.

The Washington Post reads the prayer event as a net positive for the governor.

The Texas Tribune offers a good analysis of why Perry's right flank is exposed in the GOP primary.

The Statesman: "For Perry, a fiscal conservative who has called on the federal government to "stop spending all the money," the issue of farm subsidies could be delicate if he enters the presidential race, especially in the Iowa caucuses."

ROMNEY: The Los Angeles Times reports that this week could see Mitt Romney's shaky front-runner perch challenged for the first time. With Romney's return to the campaign trail, a major debate in Iowa, and a straw poll winner to emerge (who likely won't be named Mitt). there could be a whole new dynamic in the race by week's end.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post editorial page takes Romney to task for the candidate's handling of the mysterious donor to his PAC who was revealed to be a former Bain executive over the weekend. The Post points out that, in 2008, then-candidate Romney criticized exactly this type of political giving: "'Political spending has been driven into secret corners, and more power and influence has been handed to hidden special interests,' the candidate complained. Surely that candidate, one Mitt Romney, would be deeply concerned about W Spann."

SANTORUM: Former Sen. Rick Santorum arrived in rural Algona, IA for a house party attended by 50 people yesterday afternoon, NBC’s Jo Ling Kent notes. Many of the participants signed up for a free Santorum bus and meal for the Ames Straw Poll next Sat. During his remarks, Santorum called the U.S. State Department "a cess pool" populated by people "who get co-opted by the countries they're in and forget who they're there for." Santorum said, "I'd get rid of most of them"

Santorum also answered a question on gay marriage from a volunteer military chaplain who opposes it and supports “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,” and did not want to counsel gay service members. Santorum said that chaplain should not have to do anything "against his religion" as chaplain, because "homosexuality is wrong."

NBC’s Garrett Haake, Carrie Dann, Jamie Novogrod, Jo Ling Kent, Ali Weinberg, and Anthony Terrell contributed.