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First Thoughts: A damaging summer for Obama

New NBC/WSJ poll shows Obama suffered a damaging summer, and it’s the political backdrop to his big speech on Thursday… But ALL of Washington takes a hit in the poll, and there are some silver linings for the president… The new official leader in the GOP race, per the poll: Rick Perry… Public backs Dem ideas for Super Committee… Romney unveils his jobs/economic plan at 3:30 pm ET in Nevada… Shake up in Bachmann Land, solidifying the perception that she is standing outside of the two-person Perry-vs.-Romney race… And Perry Super PAC plans to spend $55 million.

*** A damaging summer for Obama: Every summer, we've observed, has damaged Barack Obama since he became a national figure. But the most recent Dog Days of August -- which included the end to the bruising debt-ceiling fight and the subsequent S&P downgrade -- bit into Obama harder than ever before, sending him to the lowest point of his presidency. According to our new NBC/WSJ poll, Obama's approval rating stands at a low of 44% (a three-point drop since June); approval of his economic handling hit a low 37%; and only 19% think the country is headed in the right direction, which is the lowest mark in his presidency. Perhaps most ominously, 54% believe he's suffering a long-term setback from which he'll unlikely to recover -- virtually identical to George W. Bush's standing on this question after Hurricane Katrina. That suggests the public is giving up on Obama, which is why Thursday’s speech is so important for him.

AP

President Obama greeting supporters at a Labor Day speech in Detroit, Monday, September 5, 2011.

*** A few silver linings: If there's a silver lining for Obama in the poll, it's that a combined 70% still find him likeable (though nearly six in 10 say they disapprove of many of his policies). And 50% approve of his handling of foreign policy, which suggests the public doesn't think that everything he touches is negative. What's more, in a hypothetical general-election contest, Obama leads Perry by five points (47%-42%) and Romney by one (46%-45%), although that last margin is down five points since June. But for the first time in the poll, more say they'd probably vote for a generic Republican (44%) than say they'd probably vote for Obama (40%). As the saying goes, you can't beat someone with no one. But if the Republicans could find a guy or gal named "generic" or "no one,” they'd be in very good shape.

*** All of Washington takes a hit: Obama isn't the only one who's damaged, per our poll. A whopping 82% disapprove of Congress' job -- the highest-ever mark in the survey. In addition, when asked who is most to blame for the S&P downgrade, a plurality points its finger at congressional Republicans. And a majority of respondents say they would vote out every single member of Congress if they could. "Everybody in Washington is taking a substantial hit," said GOP pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Dem pollster Peter Hart. In fact, to dig further, both political parties have a DOUBLE-DIGIT net-negative rating in our poll. It's only the third time in the poll’s history when both parties were this unpopular at the same time. Usually, there's a seesaw effect; as one goes down, the other goes up. Not the case right now.

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Republican presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry (TX) at a town hall in SC, Monday, September 5, 2011.

*** Follow the leader -- Perry: Heading into tomorrow's NBC-Politico debate at the Reagan Presidential Library, the NBC/WSJ poll finds us with a new leader in the GOP presidential race. Rick Perry is the first choice of 38% of Republican voters, followed by Romney at 23%, Ron Paul at 9%, and Bachmann at 8%. Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain are tied at 5%, while Rick Santorum gets 3%, and Jon Huntsman is at 2%. And look at Perry’s Tea Party power: Among those who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters, Perry leads Romney, 45%-18%. Among non-Tea Party Republicans, the race is essentially deadlocked, with Perry at 29% and Romney at 27%. There’s your GOP contest, folks; Romney has his work cut out for him if Perry is simply NOT a flavor of the month. Consider: Perry's 38% among GOP primary voters is higher than any number Romney's gotten since we began tracking the 2012 GOP primary. Perry looks like he can consolidate a majority of the GOP electorate.

*** Public backs Dem ideas for Super Committee: With the first Super Committee hearing this Thursday, the NBC/WSJ poll also shows what course the public wants it to take. The good news for Obama/Democrats -- it's on their turf. Per the poll, 60% say it would be acceptable if the Super Committee comes up with a plan to reduce the deficit by ending the so-called Bush tax cuts for families earning $250,000 or more per year. Moreover, 56% say it would be acceptable if its plan reduces the deficit by a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. By comparison, just 37% believe it’s acceptable for the Super Committee to reduce the deficit by only cutting spending and not raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. And only 20% say it’s acceptable to lower the deficit by reducing spending on Medicare.

AP

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at the Palmetto Freedom Forum, Monday, September 5, 2011.

*** Is it safe? And with the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks coming this Sunday, our poll finds that a plurality -- 42% -- believes the U.S. is now safer than it was before the attacks. That’s a nine-point increase from Aug. 2010 on that question. By comparison, 36% think the U.S. is about as safe as it was before the attacks, and 21% say it’s less safe. But get this: By more than a 2-to-1 margin, respondents maintain that the 9/11 attacks had less of a personal impact on them than the economic recession did. In the poll, 46% cited the recession as the event that had the greatest effect on them this decade, versus 20% who cited the 9/11 attacks.

*** Romney unveils his jobs plan: Turning to the developments on the 2012 campaign trail, Romney unveils his jobs/economic plan at 3:30 pm ET today in North Las Vegas, NV. And he previewed his speech in a USA Today op-ed. “I have spent most of my career in the private sector starting new businesses and turning around ailing ones,” he writes. “Unlike career politicians who've never met a payroll, I know why jobs come and go. [Today] I will introduce a plan consisting of 59 specific proposals — including 10 concrete actions I will take on my first day in office — to turn around America's economy.” The op-ed lists many of these proposals: keeping marginal tax rates low, eliminating capital-gains and dividend taxes for middle-income Americans, rolling back regulations like the federal health-care law, promoting free trade, standing up to China, and relying on more domestic energy production. The one potential problem we see with this laundry list is that it doesn’t contain many new ideas. The other GOP candidates have offered similar proposals.

*** Rollins is out as Bachmann campaign manager: The other big campaign story of the day is the Bachmann team’s shake-up. As Politico reported on Sunday, campaign manager Ed Rollins is giving up his day-to-day duties and will play an advisory role, while his deputy, David Polyansky, is leaving the campaign entirely. Rollins cited exhaustion and his age for his move. Polyansky? Politico explains, per a GOP source, that his departure was due to “strategic differences.” Bottom line: Our NBC/WSJ poll already furthers the growing perception that this GOP contest has become a two-person race -- between Perry and Romney. (In fact, Bachmann is in fourth place in our poll.) And this Rollins-Polyansky story only solidifies that perception. And guess what: Rollins himself said it last night. "I think legitimately it's a Romney-Perry race," he told CNN. "I think she's the third candidate at this point in time — which is way different and better than we'd thought when we started this thing

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Republican presidential candidate former Rep. Newt Gingrich at the Palmetto Freedom Forum, Monday, September 5, 2011.

*** The Super PAC war: And don’t miss this story, via NBC’s Michael Isikoff: “The new super PAC backing Rick Perry has drawn up plans to spend $55 million as part of an ambitious campaign strategy aimed at blowing away the Texas governor's rivals in early primary states and securing him the Republican nomination by next spring, according to internal committee documents obtained by NBC News.” In fact, check out the PowerPoint pages Isikoff has posted, the plan is to spend over $40 million of that $55 million before the end of March.

*** On the 2012 trail: Elsewhere today, Gingrich holds a town hall in Pasadena, CA… And Buddy Roemer appears on the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

***Tuesday's "The Daily Rundown" line-up: Breaking down the new NBC/WSJ poll numbers with pollsters Bill McInturff and Peter Hart… Veteran GOP strategist and Reagan biographer Craig Shirley on how the 2012 field is competing to seize the Reagan mantle… NBC's Kelly O'Donnell on this weekend's GOP 2012ers stumping in South Carolina… NBC's Mike Isikoff with an exclusive report on the plans of a pro-Perry superpac… American University Professor Allan Lichtman explains his formula that predicts re-election for President Obama… More 2012 with the Washington Post's Nia-Malika Henderson, Democratic pollster Fred Yang, and former Rep. Susan Molinari, R-NY. 

Countdown to NBC-Politico debate at Reagan Library: 1 day
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 7 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 63 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 153 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up. 

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