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First Thoughts: Christie keeps the door open

Christie keeps the door open to a presidential bid… “I’m listening to every word of it and feeling it, too”… All signs still point to “no” -- but he has a few weeks to change his mind… And that timetable could freeze the current GOP field… While Christie keeps the door open, did Palin appear to close the door?… Bachmann speaks at Liberty University; Romney holds town hall in NH… Obama’s struggles in the Rust Belt continue… And previewing the WV GOV race, which takes place less than a week from today.

*** Christie keeps the door open: If you thought that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would use his address at the Reagan Presidential Library to close the door on a possible presidential bid, think again. Last night, he delivered a speech that rebuked Barack Obama’s presidency (just a few weeks after Christie stood by the president to inspect the flooding in New Jersey). “We watch a president who once talked about the courage of his convictions, but still has yet to find the courage to lead,” he said. But he didn’t exactly praise the congressional Republican leadership, either. “We watch a Congress at war with itself because they are unwilling to leave campaign-style politics at the Capitol’s door.” Then, in a Q&A after the speech, the guy who’s earned his reputation as a straight-shooter got cute in answering a question about whether he’s reconsidering a presidential bid. “Everyone go to Politico.com. It’s right on the front page. I’m not gonna bore you with it now. Click on it. Those are the answers.”

*** “I’m listening to every word of it and feeling it, too”: But then came a more passionate question from the audience. “We need you; our country needs you,” a questioner said. And here was Christie’s response: “I hear exactly what you’re saying, and I feel the passion with which you say it, and it touches me.” He went on to say, “[T]hat heartfelt message you gave me is also not a reason for me to do it. That reason has to reside within me, and so that’s what I’ve said all along.” But here was his conclusion: “My answer to you is just this: I thank you for what you’re saying, and I take it in and I’m listening to every word of it and feeling it, too.”

*** All signs still point to “no,” but he has a few weeks to change his mind: A Republican close to Christie told First Read that you could interpret those last words as him reconsidering. Yet time is running short; the folks around Christie are very aware that he only has a few weeks to change his mind and make a White House run -- with filing dates coming next month. Look, all signs still point to a “no” for Christie (successful presidential runs usually take months, if not years, of preparation). But you get the sense that Christie feels it would be insulting to the Republicans asking him to run to not take a little more time to make up his mind. He technically has a few more weeks because he has to either get on the plane or leave it running on the tarmac. But Christie playing Hamlet also cuts against the brand he’s tried to cultivate as governor: If he’s a straight-talking politician, where was the straight talk on a White House bid last night?

Watch highlights of Christie's Reagan Library speech in a report by Chuck Todd and Tom Brokaw.

*** Freezing the field: The news that Christie is reconsidering and has a few weeks to decide on a White House run couldn’t have come at a worse time for current GOP front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney. It freezes the field, and might make it a little more difficult to raise money in these final days of the 3rd fundraising quarter. (If you’re a GOP donor who finds Christie appealing, and you think there’s the chance he might get in, you’re not cutting a check to either Perry or Romney.)

*** Palin begins to close the door? If Christie was reconsidering last night, then Sarah Palin was appearing to close the door a bit. Here’s what she said on FOX last night: “Through my process of decision-making with my family and my close friends as to whether I should throw my name in the hat for the GOP nomination for 2012 -- is a title worth it? Does a title shackle a person?” she asked. “Does that prohibit me from being out there and out of a box, not allowing handlers to shape me and to force my message to be what’s going on, or what contributors or political pundits want it to be?” As we’ve said before, if Palin decides not run, she has to find a reason not to. And what she said last night could very well be the reason she goes with: The White House or a campaign would “shackle” her.

*** On the 2012 trail: Bachmann speaks at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA at 10:00 am ET, and then stumps in South Carolina in the evening… Romney, in New Hampshire, holds a town hall at St. Anselm College at 11:45 am ET.

AP

President Barack Obama talks about passing the American Jobs Act in Denver, CO, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011.

*** Obama’s struggles in the Rust Belt continue: A new Quinnipiac poll in Pennsylvania has more rough numbers for President Obama: Just 43% approve of his job, while 51% say he doesn’t deserve a second term – virtually identical to his numbers from last month. However, in head-to-head match-ups, he leads Romney (45%-43%) and Perry (46%-40%). But an incumbent always wants to see his head-to-head numbers in the 50s rather than in the mid-40s. And a new Quinnipiac poll in Ohio finds similar numbers for Obama in the Buckeye State: Just 42% approve of his job, and 51% say he doesn’t deserve re-election. In head-to-heads in Ohio, Obama leads Perry (44%-41%) and Romney (44%-42%).

*** West Virginia, Mountain Mama: Given that the three gubernatorial contests taking place in November (in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi) are expected to be blowouts, the best GOV race of the cycle is the one in West Virginia, which occurs on Oct. 4 -- less than a week from today. The contest pits incumbent Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D), who is filling the final year of Manchin’s term, against businessman Bill Maloney (R). The Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy sums up the emerging CW on the race: Tomblin (following Manchin’s Senate playbook from last year) is the favorite, but an upset wouldn’t be surprising (especially given the anti-incumbent mood in the country). “I’d rather be Tomblin,” Duffy tells First Read. But the race is one to watch.

*** Wednesday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Perry Campaign Communications Director Ray Sullivan and Romney Campaign senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom (together!) on the state of the race and what Gov. Christie is saying (and not saying)… Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy and Rothenberg Political Report’s Nathan Gonzales on what Tuesday’s special election for West Virginia governor tells us about the mood of voters and 2012… And more 2012 news with the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page, AP’s Liz Sidoti and National Journal’s Beth Reinhard.

*** Wednesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as part of the network’s “Education Nation” series. The show also will take President Obama’s “back to school” speech live at 1:30 pm ET. And Mitchell will interview the teacher of the year.

Countdown to WV GOV contest: 6 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 41 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 131 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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