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First Thoughts: Christmas in Des Moines?

Christmas in Des Moines? It’s possible with Nevada going on Jan. 14… Sarah Palin, unshackled… Focusing on “Walmart Moms” in Orlando, FL and Manchester, NH… Mourning Steve Jobs… A re-shuffling at the White House… And Obama to hold news conference at 11:00 am ET.

*** Christmas in Des Moines? With Nevada’s decision to hold its caucuses on Jan. 14, it’s possible that the presidential primary season could begin immediately after Christmas -- with New Hampshire settling on Jan. 7, and Iowa going either Dec. 28 or 29. If that happens, it could be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back on Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s dominance of the primary calendar. Why? You could see a full-fledged rebellion -- maybe not this cycle, but certainly the next -- if candidates are forced to campaign and the news media is forced to descend upon Des Moines over the Christmas holiday. New Year’s Eve in Des Moines four years ago was one thing; Christmas Eve is another. The reason New Hampshire would pick Jan. 7 is to give it a full week of separation between Nevada’s contest. But it all depends on how seriously New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner takes the Nevada contest. If he doesn’t take it seriously and decides Nevada is not too similar to New Hampshire’s primary, the Granite State could stick with Jan. 10, allowing Iowa to go on Jan. 5, which at least keeps the start of the voting in the 2012 calendar year. But if he takes it seriously, it’s Christmas in Des Moines. And, folks, even for diehard defenders of the Iowa/New Hampshire start, that’ll be ridiculous.

*** Sarah Palin, unshackled: The news that Sarah Palin won't be running for president in 2012 shouldn't have surprised anyone. She wasn't making phone calls to key elected officials in Iowa or New Hampshire, she didn't build a network of fundraisers and bundlers or begin to put together a top-shelf staff, and she never quit her FOX contract. But the most important sign was the trajectory of her political career. When John McCain picked her as his VP pick, she instantly became the GOP's biggest star. But then she made numerous missteps and found herself knee-deep in controversies on the campaign trail; she quit her job as Alaska governor; and she uttered that “blood libel” phrase in the wake of Gabby Giffords’ shooting. Per the new Washington Post/ABC poll, two-thirds of Republicans -- yes, Republicans -- said they didn’t want her in the GOP presidential race. In the end, Palin preferred being a celebrity politician and political pundit rather than a political leader. “Not being a candidate, really you're unshackled and you are allowed to be even more active,” she told conservative radio host Mark Levin yesterday.   

*** Focusing on “Walmart Moms” in Orlando: Last night, First Read had the opportunity, via video, to observe focus groups of so-called "Walmart Moms" in Orlando, FL and Manchester, NH. These Walmart Moms -- identified by GOP pollsters Neil Newhouse and Alex Bratty and Dem pollster Margie Omero -- are women with children under 18 living at home, who collectively broke for Obama (just barely) in '08 and swung for Republicans in '10. The findings from the group of 10 in Orlando provided some bad news and not-so-bad news for President Obama. The bad news: They overwhelmingly see the country on the wrong track. "Depressing," "Disappointing," "Bad," "Sour," and "Not good" were the words they used. The not-so-bad news: They really didn't blame Obama, mentioning instead the banks and individuals who spent too much and bought homes they couldn't really afford. Some of the views on Obama: "Disappointing," "Indifferent," "Indifferent," and "Great speaker."

*** And in Manchester: The findings were similar from the 10 women in Manchester. They described the direction of the country as "Terrible," "Disheartening," "Disappointing," and "Scary." Their views of Obama: "I like he's trying," "Mediocre," "Brilliant," "Potential," and Show-off." Interestingly, few in either Orlando or Manchester were paying attention to the GOP race, few had strong opinions about Speaker John Boehner (although one woman in Manchester called him "very emotional"), and they didn't have a strong reaction or passion about the debt-ceiling debate. That said, they didn't hold high opinions of Congress: "Frustrating" and "No clue" were some of the comments they used to describe the legislative branch.


Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs demonstrating the new iPhone, September 2007.

*** Mourning Steve Jobs: Given the disappointment with the nation’s direction that we saw from the “Walmart Moms,” given the protests on Wall Street, and given the anger at corporate America, it’s pretty remarkable how the country is collectively mourning the passing of Apple’s Steve Jobs -- and celebrating the products he created. It’s doubtful you’d see this reaction to any other CEO in the country. It’s a tribute to his technology -- and how a part of our everyday lives Apple's become.

*** White House re-shuffling: Turning to the Obama White House, Bloomberg News reports -- and First Read can confirm -- that White House senior adviser Pete Rouse is now re-engaging into a more daily role in the running of the West Wing, especially as it relates to Congress and the interest groups in Washington. This doesn’t mean Chief of Staff Bill Daley and senior adviser David Plouffe still aren’t running things, but considering how poor congressional relations are now, the decision was made to re-engage the guy who had the most Capitol Hill experience on the senior staff. And that’s Rouse…


President Obama speaks about the American Jobs Act in Columbus, Ohio, Sept. 13, 2011.

*** Obama news conference: This was just announced: President Obama is holding a news conference at the White House at 11:00 am ET.

*** On the 2012 trail: Romney’s in South Carolina, where he speaks to veterans and raises money… Cain remains on his book tour… Gary Johnson’s still in New Hampshire… And Ann Romney continues to stump for her husband in Iowa, attending a fundraiser for an Iowa state representative.

*** Thursday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: The latest on the political world’s reaction to the passing of Steve Jobs… Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn on Nevada’s calendar move and what it means for other states… Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R-NJ) on the Republican presidential field… And more 2012 news with syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker, the Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson and Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell will have complete coverage of Steve Jobs’ life and death, as well as interview Sen. Bob Casey, Rep. John Lewis, the Romney campaign’s Richard Williamson, the Economist’s Greg Ip, Politico’s Roger Simon, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.

*** Sunday’s “Meet the Press” line-up: And “Meet the Press” has announced its line-up for this weekend. In a special live edition from Chicago, NBC’s David Gregory will interview Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as well as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. For his weekly “Press Pass” video, Gregory interviewed filmmaker Ken Burns.

Countdown to Election Day 2011: 33 days

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