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First Thoughts: None of the above

The verdict from Saturday’s Florida Straw Poll: None of the above… The past few weeks have been a flashing red light for Perry, but they’re also a flashing yellow light for Romney… Christie continues to say no, but he’s still answering the phone… Obama to Democrats over the weekend: It’s time to stop complaining and get to work… President holds town hall at LinkedIn at 2:00 pm ET… Possibility of a government shutdown: Déjà vu all over again?... And Education Nation: Attitudes about the state of America’s education system, per our most recent NBC/WSJ poll.

AP

Republican presidential candidate businessman Herman Cain at the Florida Republican Party Presidency 5 Convention on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011.

*** None of the above: So what do we make of Herman Cain’s surprising -- and overwhelming -- victory at Saturday’s Florida Straw Poll? Call it a vote for “None of the Above” by the conservatives who gathered in Orlando. They didn’t break for second-place finisher Rick Perry after his debate struggles and after they displayed chinks in his conservative armor (on immigration and HPV). They also didn’t go for third-place finisher Mitt Romney, who as the St. Pete Times’ Adam Smith notes has been campaigning in Florida for at least the past five years. Bottom line: There’s an opening for another Republican. But there are two questions: 1) Is there a willing and viable candidate out there? And 2) Is there enough time? By the way, Chris Christie is still saying no. “Mr. Christie's aides say the governor hasn't budged from his months-long insistence that he won't enter the presidential fray, despite what one described as a ‘relentless’ stream of calls over the last week from prominent Republicans urging him to run,” the Wall Street Journal says.

*** A flashing red light for Perry and a flashing yellow light for Romney: While there’s a flashing red light on Perry’s candidacy right now, there’s also a flashing yellow light for Romney. After Romney’s solid debate performances and his next-in-line status (after his finish in 2008), why are key Republican money men banging on Christie’s door -- and not Romney’s? What’s more, Romney has yet to receive the scrutiny (both good and bad) that Perry has received in the past month. What the Texas governor has gone through on the subject of immigration is something that the former Massachusetts governor has yet to truly encounter on what is his Achilles Heel in a GOP primary: health care. As GOP Sen. Mark Kirk said on “Morning Joe” today, running for president isn’t a marathon; it’s the ironman. Nobody’s ever ready, but clearly getting in late makes you feel less ready. Just ask Perry.

AP

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011 in Lawrenceville, N.J.

*** Christie is still answering the phone: As for Christie, the calls keep coming for him to run. And he keeps saying no. But guess what: He’s still answering the phone. It’s what’s keeping the Christie storyline alive. And even if he doesn’t run, it’s probably a storyline he’s enjoying. By the way, this isn’t a family thing, so we’re told. In fact, a few months back, former First Lady Barbara Bush called Christie’s wife to reassure her about raising teenagers during a campaign and in the Washington bubble. But this isn’t like Daniels, who didn’t run out of deference for his family. For Christie, his family’s on board, if he gets on board. Christie’s the one, himself, who believes he’s not ready for this. And the fact is, Christie may be right. Right now, he’s a Rorschach Test for conservatives. Notice what happened to Perry when it was exposed he went against the conservative grain on issues like immigration and HPV?

*** Money week: Everyone is scooping up cash in this final frenzy before the end of the 3rd quarter. How close to $15 million does Perry get? What about Romney? How much does this latest round of handwringing over Perry slow down HIS fundraising? Does Romney get a boost at all, or does Christie chatter prevent that? After this week, look for Perry to begin the policy speech circuit (and rolling out an economic plan) in the first part of October. And also look for them to try and get to the next phase of the campaign (in their mind) -- which is to put Romney on the defensive. It’s how Team Perry believes they can stop their own bleeding. Well, that, and performing, um, slightly better at the next debate.

*** Obama to Democrats: Stop the complaining and get to work: Over the weekend, we saw a much more combative and aggressive Obama. In remarks on Saturday to a Congressional Black Caucus dinner, the president concluded, “I expect all of you to march with me and press on. Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do, CBC.” (By the way, you know Obama is in campaign mode when he’s dropping his g’s.) And at a fundraiser in California last night, he criticized the GOP presidential field and the crowds at their debates. “You've got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change," he said, obviously referring to Perry. “You've got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don't have health care and booing a service member in Iraq because they're gay.” He went on to say, "We're going to have a stark choice in this election. But I have to make sure that our side is as passionate and as motivated and is working just as hard as the folks on the other side.”

AP

President Obama exits Air Force One after arriving in San Jose, California on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011.

*** LinkedIn email spam alert: Obama remains out West to promote his jobs bill and to fundraise before the 3rd fundraising quarter ends on Sept. 30. Today, he participates in a town hall on the economy at 2:00 pm at LinkedIn headquarters in Mountain View, CA. He then hits fundraisers in San Diego and Los Angeles. Tomorrow, he will sell his jobs plan in Denver, CO before returning to the White House.

*** Déjà vu all over again? The other big political story -- besides the GOP presidential race and Obama’s West Coast swing -- is the possibility of another government shutdown. The Washington Post: “With time running out, Congress returns Monday to try to pass a short-term funding measure to avert a government shutdown and avoid yet another market-rattling showdown over the federal budget. The Democratic-led Senate, which on Friday blocked a GOP House measure to fund the government through Nov. 18, will vote late Monday on its own version of the bill. The Senate bill includes dollars for disaster relief without an offsetting spending cut elsewhere that the House GOP demands.”

*** On the 2012 trail: Romney, in New York, meets with Donald Trump and holds a fundraiser with Jewish leaders… Paul is also in the Big Apple, where he tapes an appearance on “The Daily Show”… Bachmann campaigns in Iowa… And Roemer is in New Hampshire. By the way, the DNC has a web video hitting Romney’s visit with Trump today.

*** Education Nation: As part of NBC’s weeklong focus on education, the most recent NBC/WSJ poll contained poll numbers on the public’s view of the subject. Per the poll, nearly three-quarters of adults give the nation’s schools either a C grade (45% of respondents), D grade (22%), or and F (7%). In addition, more than 60% say they are “very willing” or “somewhat willing” to pay higher federal taxes to improve the quality of the nation’s schools. The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Aug. 27-31, and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1 percentage points.

*** Monday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Gov. Mary Fallin (R-OK) on education, the economy, and more…  NBC’s Kristen Welker on President Obama’s West Coast swing… Latest on the attack on the CIA in Kabul… NBC’s Luke Russert on the possibility of a federal government shutdown… Stu Rothenberg and Charlie Cook on whether the GOP has a problem in Gov. Perry’s candidacy… More 2012 with the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, MSBNC’s Michelle Bernard, and Democratic strategist Jennifer Palmieri.

*** Monday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Gen. Colin Powell and Alma Powell (as part of NBC’s “Education Nation”), Michigan GOP Chair Robert Schostak, NBC’s Chuck Todd, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.

Countdown to Election Day 2011: 43 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 133 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up, and it’s likely that the contest takes place earlier.

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