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First Thoughts: Dog days

Another “dog days” of August for Obama… The good news: He has time to heal his wounds; the bad news: he has yet another hole to climb out of… Obama again talks about the economy and political brinksmanship… S&P is back in the spotlight (and not in a favorable way)… Vacation politics… Perry off to a “serious start”… Paul digs Perry… And Perry and Paul are both in New Hampshire, while Bachmann and Cain are in South Carolina.

*** Dog days: As we've written before, President Obama has always had difficult summers, especially Augusts. And with the debt-ceiling fight, the White House knew this summer would be more challenging than the others. The goal: to simply survive and not get knocked down (as well as not see the U.S. default and not have another debt-ceiling showdown this term). They accomplished that, but at what cost as Obama begins his Martha’s Vineyard vacation later this afternoon? Gallup this week has found that the president’s approval rating at or below 40%, that just 26% approve of his job on the economy, and that only 11% are satisfied with the way things are going in the country. But it’s just not Obama; the American public is angry at EVERYONE. Gallup, for instance, this week found Congress’ approval rating to be 13%. The good news for Obama: He has time to heal his wounds after another rough summer, and the attention has fully turned to the GOP race. The bad news: He has yet another hole to climb out of…

*** Obama talks about the economy, political brinksmanship: In an interview with CBS, Obama said the U.S. isn’t in danger of another recession. “[B]ut we are in danger of not having a recovery that's fast enough to deal with what is a genuine unemployment crisis for a whole lot of folks out there and that's why we need to be doing more.” And he argued that the “brinksmanship” around the debt-ceiling fight hurt economic confidence. “We should not have had any kind of brinksmanship around the debt ceiling. I wish [Speaker Boehner] had taken me up on a grand bargain to deal with long term debt and deficit. We still have the opportunity to fix that, it's not too late.”

*** S&P in the spotlight again: Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the Justice Department is investigating whether S&P “improperly rated dozens of mortgage securities in the years leading up to the financial crisis.” More from the Times: “The investigation began before Standard & Poor’s cut the United States’ AAA credit rating this month, but it is likely to add fuel to the political firestorm that has surrounded that action. Lawmakers and some administration officials have since questioned the agency’s secretive process, its credibility and the competence of its analysts, claiming to have found an error in its debt calculations.”

*** Vacation politics: President Obama’s upcoming trip to Martha’s Vineyard isn’t the only travel that’s raising eyebrows. As we mentioned yesterday, Newt Gingrich is headed to Hawaii next week, where he holds two public events (a meeting with local activists at a church in Wailuku and a talk at a prep school in Makawao). Asked for a reason why Gingrich is taking this trip or if there is any vacation attached to this, spokesman R.C. Hammond wrote in an email to First Read: “Fundraising.” What’s more, Mitt Romney yesterday knocked Obama for taking a vacation during the current economic instability. "The first thing I would do is go back to my office immediately," he told a Chicago radio station. "If I were president, I wouldn't be looking to spend ten days on Martha's Vineyard." The problem for Romney: He will be fundraising in Martha’s Vineyard later this month, and he’s spent plenty of time at his Lake Winnipesaukee (NH) vacation home. By the way, CBS’s Mark Knoller has the official vacation stats: So far, Obama has taken 61 vacation days. At this similar point in their presidencies, Reagan had taken 112 days, Bill Clinton 28, and George W. Bush 180 days.

*** Perry off to “a serious start”: While he’s gotten himself into trouble -- his comments on Ben Bernanke, for instance -- Rick Perry so far has shown some political agility and dexterity as a candidate. The Wall Street Journal is the latest to note how he’s backed away from the executive order he issued mandating vaccinations for HPV (which social conservatives weren’t too keen on). And as we observed about his controversial Bernanke remark, Perry didn’t back down, but he didn’t double down either,. The Boston Globe’s Joan Vennochi also notices someone who’s in it to win it: His breakfast event in New Hampshire yesterday “showed he is off to a serious start. The room was packed, but the crowd was cool. The governor, looking Back Bay buttoned-down in a gray suit and striped shirt, read the vibe perfectly. He ditched some of the swagger and just worked the ‘Yes, Ma’am’ twang.”

*** Paul digs Perry: In New Hampshire yesterday, Ron Paul took a little shot at Perry, NBC’s Jo Ling Kent reported. Paul joked that "some Southern governor" makes him look moderate. "I have never once said Bernanke committed treason," Paul -- who’s no fan of the Federal Reserve -- chuckled to thunderous applause. Paul never said Perry’s name, but he left no doubt to whom he was referring.

*** On the 2012 trail: Perry and Paul both campaign in New Hampshire, with Perry making stops in Portsmouth, Dover and Pembroke, and with Paul stumping in Concord and Amherst… Bachmann and Cain are in South Carolina, with Bachmann hitting Columbia and Florence, and with Cain in Lexington.

*** Thursday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up (with guest host Chris Cillizza): RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) on 2012, jobs and the economy… One of us (!!!) with political news driving the day… N.Y. Times/CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin with a market preview… NBC’s Kristen Welker live from Martha’s Vineyard… Plus more 2012 with USA Today’s Jackie Kucinich, the Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson and TIME’s Michael Scherer.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Rep. John Lewis (D) from the Congressional Black Caucus jobs fair in Atlanta, as well as former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, Howard Dean, and Time’s Joe Klein on Time cover story the "new greatest generation."

Countdown to NBC-Politico debate at Reagan Library: 20 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 26 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 82 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 172 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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