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First Thoughts: Romney shifts course

Romney shifts course (and hopes that Perry stumbles)… Three reasons why Perry’s 1993 embrace of the Clinton health plan probably won’t hurt him… Huntsman to unveil his jobs plan in New Hampshire today at 4:30 pm ET… Obama gives additional hints about his upcoming jobs/economic plan… Obama vs. Romney on foreign policy yesterday… And two factors why House Republicans might back down in their FEMA fight.


*** Romney shifts course: As yet another national poll -- Quinnipiac -- shows Rick Perry leading the GOP field (and this one finding him running neck and neck with President Obama in a general election), Mitt Romney has begun to shift course. Yesterday, we learned that he’s changed his mind and is attending next week’s DeMint forum in South Carolina. And also yesterday, he unveiled a new line that appears to hit Perry more than Obama. “Career politicians got us into this mess, and they simply don’t know how to get us out!” he told the VFW National Convention in San Antonio. Make no mistake: This isn’t a full-blown 180-degree turn by Team Romney. Rather, like in sailing, it’s a slight shift in course that -- over time -- will look a bigger shift. And Romney was always going to have to do this; he couldn’t run a primary race against Obama forever. But Perry’s rapid ascension has expedited this change in course.


*** Hope and change? Politico’s Martin writes the Romney campaign is hoping for three things -- 1) that Perry will stumble in the upcoming debates, 2) that Palin gets in the race (and thus takes a chunk of the conservative vote away from Perry), and 3) that pro-Romney states like Michigan move up the calendar. But Martin also makes this smart point: “Hoping Palin gets in and Bachmann stays strong to take a chunk of Palin’s conservative votes, hoping the calendar shuffle works in your favor, and hoping Perry falters badly under the hot lights of the debate stage could ultimately be just that – a hope.” What we still don’t know about Perry: Does he have staying power? This year, we’ve seen Trump, Bachmann, and even Cain enjoy poll boomlets. And they’ve all fizzled. Perry has a resume and political base that seems to suggest he can withstand a stumble a lot better than those other less-experienced politicians. What we’ll know by October or November is whether Perry is going to be the frontrunner with Romney chasing him, a la Bush v. McCain in 2000, or whether he’s more like Romney, circa 2007, a short-lived front-runner who melts when the heat gets turned up.

*** Perry embraces Hillarycare? Per NBC’s Carrie Dann, Perry may face an old political ghost from his tenure as Texas Agriculture commissioner -- a complimentary letter he wrote in 1993 to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton to urge her to consider the needs rural residents as she drafted what would later be derided as "Hillarycare." In the April 6, 1993 letter, Perry told Mrs. Clinton, “I think your efforts in trying to reform the nation’s health care system are most commendable." Perry campaign strategist Dave Carney told the Daily Caller, which published the letter yesterday, that Perry would not have known the specifics of the policy at the time. That said, Dann adds, some of its broad goals were being reported.

*** But three reasons why it probably won’t hurt him: Nevertheless, it’s doubtful this letter damages Perry. Why? Because if you’re Romney -- and it only makes sense that this oppo hit came from his campaign -- you are going to have a difficult time seeming more conservative than Perry. What’s more, who will win the battle of moderate-to-conservative conversion? Someone who backed Al Gore in the 80s and praised the Clinton health plan in the early 90s? Or someone who signed into law an individual mandate in Massachusetts in 2006 and who supported abortion rights until 2005? Lastly, this letter could actually serve as a wink and a nod to establishment Republicans – that Perry could be more practical that his campaign persona. And it’s the last point that’s the real danger for Romney: If Perry seems pragmatic enough for the skeptical Chamber-of-Commerce types who are quietly nervous about Perry now, then it could hurt Romney’s attempt to eventually play the “I’m the only guy who can beat Obama” card when he’ll need it at the end of this primary process.


*** Huntsman unveils his jobs plan: In New Hampshire at 4:30 pm ET, Jon Huntsman will unveil his jobs/economy plan. According to excerpts his campaign has released, Huntsman will say, “The president believes that we can tax and spend and regulate our way to prosperity. We cannot. We must compete our way to prosperity. When I was born, manufacturing comprised 25% of our GDP; today, it’s down to 10%.” Huntsman continues, “This does not reflect a decline in American ingenuity or work ethic; it reflects our government’s failure to adapt to the realities of the 21st century economy. We need American entrepreneurs not only thinking of products like the IPhone or Segway; we need American workers building those products.  It’s time for Made in America to mean something again."

*** On the 2012 trail: Elsewhere on the trail today, Bachmann addresses a Tea Party rally in Des Moines… Cain addresses the Georgia State Senate… And Santorum remains in Pennsylvania.


*** More hints about Obama’s upcoming jobs plan: Turning from the 2012 campaign trail to the activity on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Obama yesterday gave more hints about his upcoming economic speech in an interview on Tom Joyner’s radio program. One was an emphasis on boosting the construction industry. “There are schools all across the country that right now you could put people to work fixing up. There are roads and bridges right now that need to be improved,” he said. Two was tax provisions to help small businesses and a payroll tax cut. “That not only helps them keep their head above water, but it also circulates that money in the economy and makes sure that businesses have customers.” And today at 10:35 am ET, Obama will call for Congress to extend FAA and surface-transportation extensions.

*** Obama stresses drawing down troops: Yesterday, Obama and Romney delivered foreign-policy speeches to veterans' groups, and they couldn't have more different. Obama highlighted the successes of the past two and a half years -- bin Laden’s killing, Khaddafy’s ouster, the end of combat operations in Iraq, and the beginning of the drawdown in Afghanistan. In particular, he stressed how U.S. troops are coming home. “For our troops and military families who've sacrificed so much, this means relief from an unrelenting decade of operations. Today, fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way. For so many troops who’ve already done their duty, we’ve put an end to the stop loss.”

*** Romney stresses adding more troops: By comparison, Romney's speech was more pessimistic. “On the one hand is wishful thinking that the world is becoming a safer place,” he said. “The opposite is true. Consider simply the Jihadists, a near-nuclear Iran, a turbulent Middle East, an unstable Pakistan, a delusional North Korea, an assertive Russia, and an emerging global power called China. No, the world is not becoming safer.” And Romney suggested that the U.S. should be adding to its military might -- and spending for it -- rather than drawing down. "Across the globe, China is becoming not only an economic powerhouse, but also a military super-power… Its military build-up should give us pause... I will slice billions of dollars in waste and inefficiency and bureaucracy from the defense budget.  I will use the money we save for modern ships and planes, and for more troops.”  


Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

*** FEMA fight: While Republicans appear to be drawing their line in the sand on disaster relief -- any federal funds have to be offset by other budget cuts -- there are two points to keep in mind. One, the epicenter of last week’s earthquake was in Eric Cantor’s district. And two, much of the damage from Hurricane Irene took place in Chris Christie’s New Jersey. Those are two reasons why Republicans might ultimately back down from their demand. Do House Republicans really want to make Christie an enemy here?

*** Wednesday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Latest on Northeast flooding and the federal response (and the festering FEMA funding fight)… NBC’s Ken Strickland and the Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez on what we learned from the meeting of the super debt committee’s GOP members…  Sasha Issenberg on his new e-book “Rick Perry and His Eggheads”… Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston breaks down the 9/13 special election to fill Nevada’s 2nd district U.S House seat… And more 2012 headlines with USA Today’s Susan Page, syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker, and TIME’s Michael Scherer.

*** Wednesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up (guest-hosted by NBC’s Chuck Todd): On tap will be interviews with 9/11 Commission Co-Chair Tom Kean, Congressional Black Caucus head Emanuel Cleaver, budget expert Maya MacGuiness, and NBC embed Jo Ling Kent.

Countdown to NBC-Politico debate at Reagan Library: 7 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 13 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 69 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 159 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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