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First Thoughts: The frozen campaign

The frozen campaign and where things currently stand… GOP primary calendar comes into focus… So, too, do the filing deadlines… Why hasn’t Romney caught fire?... Romney addresses the flip-flopper charge… Anita Perry stands by her man… Cain won’t support Perry if he’s the nominee… And final TV ads begin airing in West Virginia’s GOV race.

*** The frozen campaign: With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie keeping the door open to a possible presidential run -- and having likely two or three weeks to decide if he wants to jump into the race -- the GOP contest is effectively frozen. So here’s where we stand: A new FOX poll has Romney in the lead at 23% among Republican primary voters, followed by Perry at 19%, Cain at 17%, and Gingrich at 11%. But it would be incorrect to call Romney the new front-runner from this survey. (Just combine the Perry and Cain percentages, folks; Romney has the same 20%-25% he’s had for months.) The frozen campaign also gives the candidates a two-week regrouping period. Perry gets to prepare for the Oct. 11 debate, shore up his conservative credentials (see the “heartless” walk back), and possibly undermine Romney’s. And Romney, after running for president for the past five years, gets another two weeks to convince skeptical Republicans that he’s their guy. Assuming Christie doesn’t run, the candidate who uses these two weeks best could very well have a leg up heading into the contests that will take place just three months from now…

AP

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the Perspectives on Leadership Forum at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011.

*** Calendar comes into focus: With Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon saying that the Sunshine State will likely hold its presidential primary on Jan. 31, the GOP calendar is finally taking shape -- and so are the filing deadlines for a possible Christie (or Palin candidacy). If Florida goes on the 31st, the Iowa caucuses could take place in early January (either Thursday the 5th or Monday the 9th are good guesses), while the New Hampshire primary would probably occur a week later (so either Tuesday the 10th or Tuesday the 17th). Per NBC’s Ali Weinberg, the South Carolina Republican Party will announce its primary date at a news conference today at 11:00 am ET (maybe Saturday the 21st or Saturday the 28th?) Nevada would be sometime in between New Hampshire and South Carolina (so Tuesday the 17th or Tuesday the 24th) And then you have Florida go on Jan. 31. By the way, how close South Carolina is to Florida is VERY important to Romney. If it’s just a three-day window between the two states, then Romney can effectively skip it. If it’s not, the loss there could be more meaningful and have an impact on momentum going into Florida. Folks, the calendar matters.

*** And so do the filing deadlines: As for the filing deadlines, New Hampshire’s would occur in mid-October; Florida’s is Oct. 31; and South Carolina’s is Nov. 1. What does that mean? If Christie or Palin is going to get in, they have about two or three weeks -- max -- to make up their minds. Frankly, if they are going to run, they actually only have a few days -- they need as much lead time to get on these ballots as they can possibly give themselves.

AP

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds a town meeting in Manchester, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011.

*** Why hasn’t Romney caught fire? Both the New York Times and Washington Post today focus on Romney and why he has been unable to excite Republican primary voters so far, despite his improvements on the stump and on the debate stage. Yet here’s one reason both articles don’t really mention: his past positions on issues. While there’s been so much focus on Rick Perry’s record (his support for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, the HPV vaccine mandate) just look at Romney’s: Only six years ago, he supported abortion rights; in 1994, he sent a letter saying he’d be a stronger advocate for gay rights than Ted Kennedy; according to a 2006 article, he supported a path to citizenship for law-abiding illegal immigrants; he has said that his Massachusetts health-care law should be a model for other states; and he said back in June that humans have contributed to the world getting warmer -- and that it’s important to reduce emissions to combat that. All of those positions are anathema to conservatives. A question: Does this Republican electorate want to “settle,” gravitate behind the most electable? When they’ve “settled” in the past, many conservative leaders have regretted it (see McCain or Dole or Bush 41).

*** Romney addresses the flip-flopper charge: Speaking of Romney and his position on the issues, he yesterday addressed the perception that he’s a flip-flopper, per NBC’s Jo Ling Kent. "In the private sector, if you don't change your view when the facts change, well you'll get fired for being stubborn and stupid,” he said in a town hall in New Hampshire. “Winston Churchill said, 'When the facts change I change too, Madam.’” Of course, it was just last week when Romney suggested he doesn’t change positions. The American people "can tell when people are being phony and are pandering to an audience," he said, "and you’ll see that in politics. You’re not going to see that in my campaign."

AP

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, right, with his wife, Anita at a news conference in Tulas, Okla., Monday, Aug. 29, 2011.

*** Stand by your man: In the past couple of days, Perry’s wife, Anita, has been defending her husband on the campaign trail. It’s been fascinating stuff. “Some have attacked Rick on this issue of immigration, so I want you to be armed with the facts,” she said on Tuesday night in Iowa, per NBC’s Alex Moe. “No one has done more to secure the border. And as president, he is committed to stopping the tide of illegal immigration.” And she said this about her husband’s debate performances: “Gov. Romney has been running for president for four or five years, and that was my husband’s third debate... I think when you have seven arrows being shot at you -- and you are the one person in the middle -- a 30-second rebuttal doesn’t give you much time.”  And check out this comment out (which strikes us as the family gently starting to question the paid advisers): “So he's going to be better prepared this time… In fact our son's 28. He said, ‘Mom, when they do the debate prep for the next debate, I want to be there.’ He's best when he's down as a fighter and this is his opportunity to show up. I want him to say...Maybe I shouldn't say that. I don't want to give out our strategy.”

*** Cain says he wouldn’t support Perry if he’s the nominee: And don’t miss what Herman Cain said yesterday about Perry: He wouldn’t support him if he becomes the GOP nominee. “Today I could not support Rick Perry as the nominee for a host of reasons” -- naming immigration as one issue. Strikingly, he said he’d support Romney if the former Massachusetts governor is committed to repealing President Obama’s health-care law.

*** On the 2012 trail: Gingrich is in Iowa, where he unveils his “21st Century Contract for America”… Bachmann’s in North Carolina… Ann Romney stumps for her husband in South Carolina… And Ron Paul and Buddy Roemer are in New Hampshire.

*** West Virginia, Mountain Mama: With five days to go until West Virginia’s competitive gubernatorial contest, the rival sides are up with their closing arguments. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has popular Sen. Joe Manchin (the man Tomblin succeeded) appearing in a TV ad. Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association -- which is supporting challenger Bill Maloney (R) -- is trying to tie President Obama to Manchin in an ad.

*** Thursday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter on education and the economy… RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer and DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse… NBC’s Anthony Terrell on Rep. Ron Paul’s recent remarks on protecting some federal programs… And more 2012 news with former Clinton White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, Comcast’s Robert Traynham and USA Today’s Jackie Kucinich.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, as well as Republicans Nicolle Wallace and Fred Malek (on the GOP race), Politico’s Maggie Haberman (on 2012), NBC’s Kerry Sanders (on Alabama’s immigration law), and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza. 

Countdown to WV GOV contest: 5 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 40 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 130 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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