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First Thoughts: Does Obama bring Congress back?

Pros and cons of Obama bringing Congress back… Tonight’s referendum on Big Labor (and Scott Walker) in Wisconsin… Dems need to gain a net three state Senate seats to win back control of the chamber after Walker’s anti-collective-bargaining law… Polls in Wisconsin close at 9:00 pm ET… Team Obama to take a page out of the Bush ’04 playbook on Romney?... Saturday’s split screen: Most Republicans will be in Iowa for the Ames Straw Poll, while Rick Perry will be in South Carolina and New Hampshire… Longtime Lamar Alexander aide Tom Ingram joins the Huntsman campaign… How Bachmann has become the anti-Palin… Romney’s Drudge connection… And most of the 2012 candidates are in Iowa today.

*** Does Obama bring Congress back? We heard the message from Terry McAuliffe yesterday, former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine today, and we know there are other friends of the administration giving similar advice: President Obama needs to bring Congress back from its August vacation to deal with jobs and debt. On the one hand, the White House doesn’t want to look like it’s panicking (a la John McCain’s call to suspend his campaign after Lehman’s crash in the fall of ‘08). And Team Obama’s first instinct is to always under-react; in fact, you saw that in his speech yesterday afternoon. On the other hand, the Obama White House needs to look like it’s in charge of the situation, even if world markets are reacting more to the debt crisis in Europe rather than the political situation in Washington.

*** Or does it tune out the Washington chatter? The Obama White House’s pattern in the past has been to tune out the Washington chatter and then react to it on its own timetable. Perhaps they'll be proven right in the long run, but it looks riskier today than it has before when they've chosen caution over a high-profile political/policy gamble. By the way, was any thought given to the president deciding against showing up at the two DNC events last night? Again, we know they don't want to be trapped by events and the campaign must go on (it's not as if Republicans decided to stop fundraising yesterday). But with the White House appearing unsure of what to say or do next, it's not going to read well in the history books that on the day the market fell over 600 points, an hour after the closing bell, the president headed to a DNC donor-maintenance event.

*** Tonight’s referendum on Big Labor: These have hardly been glory years for organized labor, even the first two-plus years of the Obama administration. Right out of the gate in ’09, they lost the political battle over card check. In the past few months, they’ve largely lost the P.R. battle over the National Labor Relations Board’s complaint that Boeing illegally moved a plant from union Washington State to non-union South Carolina. And at the beginning of this year -- starting first in Wisconsin -- conservative governors and state legislatures punched Big Labor in the face, passing laws curbing collective-bargaining rights. Today, we find out if labor can punch back, as Wisconsin holds six recall elections against GOP state senators who voted for Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) anti-collective-bargaining law. Yes, the recalls are a referendum on Walker. They’re also a referendum on whether Democrats have regained some political juice in the Midwest. But make no mistake: No one has more to win or lose tonight than organized labor.

*** Total Recall: Badger State Showdown: If Democrats gain a net THREE state Senate seats, they will take back control of that chamber. As mentioned above, six GOP state senators who voted for Walker’s anti-collective-bargaining law -- Robert Cowles, Alberta Darling, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Randy Hopper, and Dan Kapanke -- are receiving challenges from Democrats today. Dems feel good about two of the GOP seats (Hopper’s and Kapanke’s), while two others are toss-ups (Darling’s and Olsen’s). But given the likely low turnout, no one knows how the races will play out. “We don’t have a precedent for this,” Dem pollster Mark Mellman, who’s doing the polling for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, told Greg Sargent last week. “The nature of the turnout is so uncertain that it really will make a huge difference. We’re dealing with big uncertainties.” And the recall story doesn’t end today: If Dems win three or more races today, then they must defend two Democratic state senators facing recalls next week. Polls close in Wisconsin at 9:00 pm ET. 

*** This is a fascinating stat: Via the Recall Elections blog, “Since 1908 (when Oregon became the first state to adopt the recall for state level officials), there have been 20 state legislative recall elections in the entire country. In this term, Wisconsin will have nine recalls in a little over a month.”

NBC's Chuck Todd and J.R. Ross of WisPolitics break it down the Wisconsin recall vote.

*** Taking a page out of the Bush ’04 playbook: Turning to the 2012 race, don’t miss Politico’s look at the Obama playbook against Mitt Romney if he becomes the GOP nominee. “In a move that will make some Democrats shudder, Obama’s high command has even studied President Bush’s 2004 takedown of Sen. John F. Kerry... The onslaught would have two aspects. The first is personal: Obama’s re-elect will portray the public Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama’s advisers in about a dozen interviews, 'weird.'... The second aspect of the campaign to define Romney is his record as CEO of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm which was responsible for both creating and eliminating jobs. Obama officials intend to frame Romney as the very picture of greed in the great recession – a sort of political Gordon Gekko.”

*** Saturday’s split screen: But what if Romney isn’t the nominee? Indeed, the biggest 2012 news yesterday was the reporting that Rick Perry will make his presidential intentions clear on Saturday at the RedState conference in South Carolina (he’ll also be in New Hampshire that day). As a result, Iowa -- with its Ames Straw Poll -- will no longer be the center of the political universe on Saturday. And Perry’s likely entry diminishes the importance of second place in Ames. Bachmann, for instance, can’t afford to look weak in Iowa with Perry about to get in. Ditto Pawlenty, who needs to look like the real deal in the Hawkeye State.

*** Tom Ingram joins the Huntsman campaign: Team Huntsman is announcing that Tom Ingram -- a longtime aide to Lamar Alexander -- is formally joining the campaign as a senior adviser. (Ingram, who has also worked for Bob Corker, Bill Haslam, and Fred Thompson, had been informally advising the campaign until this elevation.) This is pretty big news for the Huntsman camp: Ingram is a manager, and he’s been brought in to fix campaigns before. His bottom-line reputation: He's the type of guy who brings order and does so without making himself the story. Clearly, a response to the news last week that John Weaver had lost some confidence with some important campaign supporters.

*** How Bachmann has become the anti-Palin: To us, the biggest news from the controversial Newsweek cover of Michele Bachmann is how she has stayed clear of the controversy and moved on. When a man asked her about the cover yesterday, Bachmann dismissed it, per NBC's Matt Loffman. "Power behind our campaign is hope and a future. That's all I believe in. I told you that I'm an Iowan and I was born here," she said. Despite all the earlier Palin-Bachmann comparisons, Bachmann has become the anti-Palin in this campaign: While Palin would have gone to war with Newsweek over the photo and headline, Bachmann just brushes it off her shoulder.

*** Romney’s Drudge connection: Speaking of Bachmann, we did enjoy this line from Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker profile of her: “Why would Drudge, an ardent conservative, publicize that gaffe [of Bachmann confusing John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy]? O’Donnell thought he knew the answer. ‘Matt Rhoades and Drudge are best friends,’ he said, speaking of Mitt Romney’s campaign manager. Bachmann concurred. ‘You never see anything about Romney on Drudge—ever,’ she said.” True or not, Rhoades’ ties to Drudge have become accepted legend in presidential politics…

*** On the 2012 trail: The campaigning is all in Iowa: Bachmann, Cain, Paul, Pawlenty, and Santorum are in the Hawkeye State.

*** Tuesday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin & Becky Quick on the market turmoil… WisPolitics.com’s J.R. Ross on today’s Wisconsin recall votes… Iowa GOP Straw Poll look-ahead with the AP’s Liz Sidoti, Comcast’s Robert Traynham and former Clinton White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers… NBC News campaign reporter Carrie Dann in Austin with the latest on Gov. Rick Perry’s plans… Americans Elect’s Eliot Ackerman on their push for another presidential ticket option for 2012… Rothenberg Report’s Nate Gonzales on finding political lessons in children’s books.

Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 4 days
Countdown to Wisconsin recall general for Dem senators: 7 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 35 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 91 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 181 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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