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First Thoughts: Don't count out Perry

A word of advice: Don’t count out Perry just yet… Four reasons why: money (Perry will report raising more than $17 million in the 3rdQ), debate expectations, the calendar, and ideology… The central question: What will Romney look like after 60 days of anti-Romney shelling?... Tomblin wins WV GOV race, producing a huge sigh of relief for the White House and national Democrats… McConnell’s maneuver and the unpopular Congress… And cashing in on the presidential contest.

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Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

*** Don’t count out Perry: After a string of solid debate performances, after being largely outside the intense glare of the presidential spotlight, and after Chris Christie’s final announcement that he’s not running, Mitt Romney is once again the man to beat in the GOP presidential race. A new national Quinnipiac poll, with findings similar to yesterday’s Washington Post/ABC survey, confirms Romney’s status. Per the poll, Romney’s at 22% (a four-point increase from last month), Cain’s at 17% (a 12-point rise), and Perry’s at 14% (a 10-point drop). Meanwhile, a CBS poll has Romney and Cain tied at 17% and Perry at 12%. But as the Republican establishment and big GOP donors -- like Home Depot co-founder like Ken Langone -- begin to embrace Romney, a word of advice: Don’t count out Rick Perry, at least not yet.

*** Money, debate expectations, the calendar, and ideology: There are four reasons why you shouldn’t. The first is money. First Read has learned that the Perry camp will report raising more than $17 million  in the 3rd quarter (almost all of it in primary money), which is just slightly under what Romney raked in last quarter. Perry also will report having more than $15 million in the bank. What this means: Unlike Bachmann or Huntsman, Perry will have enough money to buy himself a second chance. The second reason is the upcoming debates. Yes, Perry has struggled in his past performances, but with expectations now so low, all it takes is one good performance by Perry -- and a shaky one by Romney -- to produce a story. (Remember, Hillary Clinton’s one bad debate performance didn’t come until Oct. 30, 2007.) A third reason: the primary calendar. Iowa and South Carolina are tailor-made for Perry, and with the 10 days in between South Carolina (1/21) and Florida (1/31), a Palmetto State win could give him momentum going into Florida and Super Tuesday (which features several southern states). And the fourth (and perhaps most) important reason is ideology.

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Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

*** Romney vs. Romney: While the past few weeks have focused on Perry’s departures from conservative orthodoxy (in-state tuition, HPV vaccine), Romney has yet to receive the same scrutiny (on abortion, health care, his own past views on illegal immigration). And with Perry having the resources -- and don’t forget help from pro-Perry Super PACs -- to remind Republican primary voters about Romney’s record, here’s our question: What does Romney look like after 60 days of shelling? The answer to that question will answer whether or not Romney is your eventual GOP nominee. Bottom line: This race is down to the idea of “Romney as the most electable candidate” vs. “is Romney conservative enough for the Republican electorate?”

*** A sigh of relief for Democrats and Team Obama: As we wrote yesterday, a Democratic loss in West Virginia’s gubernatorial contest would have been a problem for the White House and national Democrats -- not because West Virginia is a key 2012 state, but rather because a loss would have sent red-state Democrats running for the hills. But Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) pulled out a close win over businessman Bill Maloney (R), 50%-47%, which is a huge sigh of relief for Democrats, especially after Republicans tried to nationalize the contest. Organization -- as well as an assist from popular Sen. Joe Manchin -- helped Democrats win last night. So take note Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill: You can win in a tough environment in a red state, but you have to run a smart race; you can’t simply lament the state of President Obama and use that as an excuse.

*** McConnell’s maneuver: Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proved once again that he knows how to outmaneuver his opposition. Responding to the White House’s call for Congress to pass the president’s jobs bill, McConnell offered to give them what they wanted -- as an attachment to Senate Democrats’ China-currency bill, NBC’s Libby Leist reported. The move prompted Senate Democrats to drag their feet. "We need to move to this right away,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid replied yesterday. “There is no question about that. But to tack this onto the China currency manipulation legislation is nothing more than a political stunt. We all know that." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney also called McConnell’s move a stunt. “It was a very disingenuous attempt to draw attention away from the fact that this president is calling on members of Congress -- both houses -- to act on jobs and the economy.”

AP

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, with Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., left, and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, during a news conference Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011.

*** An unpopular Congress: While McConnell’s maneuver was temporarily embarrassing for Senate Democrats, it doesn’t erase the perception that Congress is broken and unpopular -- something Obama can run against next year. Indeed, the new Washington Post/ABC survey finds that only 14% of the public approves of Congress’ job, which is an all-time low in the poll. What’s more, Obama “now holds a 49 to 34 percent advantage over congressional Republicans when it comes to the public’s trust on creating jobs. That is a change from September, when they were evenly split at 40 percent each.”

*** Cashing in: There’s always been this little secret in American politics: You can make money running for president. After all, just look at Mike Huckabee’s success after ’08. But this cycle, a couple of Republican presidential candidates aren’t even keeping this a secret. Today, with about 90 days until the Iowa caucuses, Herman Cain is beginning a book tour, which takes him to Florida, Texas, Virginia, and South Carolina. (Yes, nowadays almost every presidential candidate writes a book, but never this close to the actual races.) In addition, Newt and Callista Gingrich tonight are once again screening their documentary, “A City Upon a Hill.” And on Monday, Gingrich Productions posted this video of Callista Gingrich promoting her book, “Sweet Land of Liberty” (a children’s book about a time-traveling elephant).

*** Gingrich camp responds: Gingrich spokesman Joe DeSantis tells First Read, “I don't think holding free screenings is a money-making scheme... These are events where Newt is able to share [his views] in a different form than a speech.” DeSantis adds that the books and the movies are part of a “cultural campaign” the Newt and Callista Gingrich are waging.

*** On the 2012 trail: Elsewhere today, Romney remains in Florida… Paul addresses the National Press Club in DC… Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer are in New Hampshire… Gingrich holds a town hall in South Carolina… And Ann Romney stumps for her husband in Iowa.

*** Wednesday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Cain 2012 Campaign Manager Mark Block… Sen. John Thune (R-SD) on jobs, the economy, and the 2012 GOP field… Former Reps. Martin Frost (D-TX) and Tom Davis (R-VA) on funding fights on Capitol Hill… And more on Christie’s decision and other 2012 news with the New York Times’ Helene Cooper, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and Roll Call’s David Drucker.

*** Wednesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell will interview GOP Rep. Tom Price (on Obama’s jobs bill), the Economist’s Matthew Bishop (on the Wall Street protests), NBC’s Pete Williams (on “Fast & Furious), Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka (on Rick Perry), as well as MSNBC’s Tamron Hall, CNBC’s Ron Insana, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.

Countdown to Election Day 2011: 34 days

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