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First Thoughts: Perry's two paths

Perry straddling the line between Tea Party and establishment … And as the establishment waits for its white knight, at some point, it’s likely going to have to pick between Perry and Romney … But is Romney up for the fight? … Bachmann who? Who would have thought the fiery Minnesota congresswoman would have a hard time getting attention? … It’s the economy -- as Obama’s on vacation, stocks tumble, Bank of America makes layoffs … Liberal group’s six-figure ad buy … Today, the action on the trail is in South Carolina, where Perry and Bachmann campaign … We fact check if Texas teaches creationism and if it’s constitutional … Daily Rundown has Lloyd Doggett, Andrea Mitchell interviews Barbour, Santorum. … And get your NBC/Politico Reagan Library debate credentials.

*** Perry’s two paths: Yesterday, we wrote about President Obama, as he heads into Labor Day. Well, here’s a look at where GOP 2012 field stands and what we learned this week… The race is down to three candidates -- and it’s shaping up to be, on the one hand -- Tea Party (Bachmann, Perry) vs. Establishment (Romney). It’s like college basketball with 12-seed Bachmann and 2-seed Perry facing off on the Tea Party/"anti-Romney” side for the right to take on the top-seeded Romney, who has a bye in the “Establishment” bracket. BUT, on the other hand, Perry has the potential to play in BOTH brackets. We’ve seen examples of him trying to straddle the line – Tea Party (Bernanke and creationism) and Establishment (not doubling down on Bernanke and delivering a well-received business-focused speech in New Hampshire). And he impressed GOP consultant Alex Castellanos, who was aligned with Romney in ’08, who wrote recently that “Romney should look over his shoulder. There is a freight train coming.”

*** The establishment’s two choices: The establishment, though, isn’t yet convinced Perry’s one of them, especially after Bernanke. And it’s still not rallying around Romney (health care, authenticity, strength). It’s why you keep hearing chatter about Paul Ryan and Chris Christie (though Christie’s buzz faded after New Jersey was downgraded). Neither is likely to get in. And the more time passes, the less likely it is that anyone else gets in. If no white knight emerges in the next month, the establishment will have to start to pick between one or the other. (By the way, notice who’s NOT in the speculation conversation – Sarah Palin. No one knows what she’s going to do, but you get the sense a lot of people, even fans of her’s, are starting to move on.)

*** Moving past Bachmann: With Perry’s entrance, the CW has moved past Michele Bachmann. Bachmann and her campaign expected to bask in a week-long media glow after her Ames win. (Why do you think she did the Full Ginsberg?) But it didn’t work out that way. There were good headlines the next day -- but that was it. The story moved to Perry and Perry vs. Romney -- and Bachmann was left with a week of tough press. What’s fascinating is that she’s actually had a hard time getting attention. And THAT’s not something we thought we’d ever say about Michele Bachmann.

*** Romney doesn’t want the fight (yet)…: We also learned that Romney doesn’t want to talk about Rick Perry, and Perry isn’t afraid to mix it up. Romney jabbed first this week, but when Perry hit back, Romney ducked and backed away, calling him a “fine” governor and said there’d be plenty of time for debate (just not now, apparently). Romney probably felt like he was being taken off-message (jobs), but at some point he has to engage in earnest. And remember what happened to Tim Pawlenty, when he looked like he didn’t want the fight.

*** …But he took a couple of nicks: And though they weren’t major blows, Romney didn’t totally avoid getting nicked. Perry dinged him by brushing off Romney’s jab about private-sector experience, blowing a kiss in Romney’s direction and foreshadowing that he would soon contrast their records as governor. He played into the narrative that he’s on both sides of a lot of issues – public vs. private-sector experience; taxes: FOR tax cuts for the rich and against them; and Martha’s Vineyard: he criticized Obama for vacationing there, but going there himself to raise money for his campaign on the same day Obama will be there. And his awkwardness on the trail was exposed with his harping on the geographic and ethnic name origins of voters at a New Hampshire stop.

*** Stocks plunge again; Bank of America to make layoffs: For all the back and forth to come in the GOP presidential primary, we all know the overarching issue of 2012 is the economy. President Obama needs some good news, and he didn’t get it yesterday. On his first day of vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, the Dow dropped 419 points, and Bank of America is laying off 3,500 workers with more likely. Here’s NBC’s Kirsten Welker’s piece from Nightly News with Brian Williams last night on president’s and vacations.

*** Warren’s in, Feingold’s out: Elizabeth Warren filed an exploratory committee yesterday to run for the Senate in Massachusetts, which makes the left happy. But Russ Feingold ruled out a run for anything in 2012. If Warren runs, and the decision will be made in the next few weeks after Labor Day, she would have to get through a crowded primary field first in order to challenge popular Republican Scott Brown. That could help for someone who’s never run for office (she’d have to prove herself) or it could hurt (move too far to the left, have to spend lots of money, while Brown rides the center). Some on the left viewed Feingold as the strongest candidate to beat Scott Walker next year for governor. Has the left’s Wisconsin mo’ receded a bit? And does Wisconsin wind up looking a whole lot more like 2004 (when it was the closest state in the presidential race)?

*** Target: Vulnerable House Republicans: Speaking of down-ballot races, House Majority PAC, an outside group aligned with Democrats, is going up with its second wave of what it says is a six-figure ad buy. It’s targeting just two members -- Dan Lungren (CA-03) and Sean Duffy (WI-07). Lungren won with just 50.1% in 2010; Duffy, a freshman, won with just 52%. Here’s the cable ad targeting Lungren.

*** Decision 2012 Trail Mix -- (South) Carolina on their minds: Perry and Bachmann take the Palmetto State today with six stops between them (four for Perry, two for Bachmann). Perry holds a breakfast meet and greet in Florence, then tours a hospital there (“ObamaCare,” anyone?); he then goes to Columbia for a lunch meet and greet, and then up to the more conservative Upstate, where he tours downtown Greenville. … Bachmann instead starts out in Lowcountry with a town hall in Myrtle Beach and a rally in Mt. Pleasant. … Others: Mitt Romney has no public events … Herman Cain attends the opening of his New Hampshire headquarters in Manchester and then tour the downtown area … Thaddeus McCotter takes questions from reporters in Concord, NH … Gingrich speaks in Hollywood, CA, before Catholic business leaders.

*** Fact Check: Does Texas teach creationism? Speaking of nicks, Perry’s comments to a child in New Hampshire that creationism and evolution are taught in public schools created a lot of attention in the blogosphere. So is creationism taught in Texas schools? The long and short of it is probably. Suzanne Marchman, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency (the state’s version of the Department of Education) tells First Read, that the state’s science standards “require students to analyze, evaluate, and critique, scientific explanations.” And since teachers craft their own lesson plans, “It’s likely that other theories, likely creationism, are being discussed in class.” Is it constitutional? NBC’s Pete Williams reports, if it were true that the state of Texas required its public schools to teach both evolution and creationism, that would almost certainly be unconstitutional. Here’s our full report.

*** Friday's "The Daily Rundown" line-up (with guest host Chris Cillizza): 2012, jobs, and the economy with Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX)... Latest on Middle East developments (Syria, Libya, Gaza...) with Washington Institute's Mike Singh and USIP's Robin Wright... N.Y. Times/CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin on where the market will head today... One of us (!!!) with political headlines... NBC's Kristen Welker with the latest on the Obamas in Martha's Vineyard... More 2012 with National Journal's Reid Wilson, Jennifer Palmieri of the Center for American Progress and former RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

*** Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” and if it’s Friday, it’s Meet the Press’s Sunday line-up: “Andrea Mitchell Reports” has Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) and presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R); And speaking of guest hosts, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie fills in for David Gregory Sunday on Meet. Guthrie’s guests include former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R).

*** Attention, Political Reporters: Don’t forget to get credentialed for the NBC/Politico debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, CA, Sept. 7th. You can register here. Forms are due by Aug. 31.

Countdown to NBC-Politico debate at Reagan Library: 19 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 25 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 81 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 171 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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