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First Thoughts: A rough week for Romney and Perry

A rough week for Romney and Perry… A sign that the economy is about to turn the corner, or is it just more of the same?… Today’s the NH filing deadline, which means the GOP presidential field will be officially set by day’s end… NYT on holes in Obama’s lobbyist-money ban… The battle to define “Occupy Wall Street”… Is Issue 2 in Ohio closer than the polls suggest?… And Jan Brewer’s redistricting power play in AZ.

By NBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, Brooke Brower, and Natalie Cucchiara

*** A rough week for Romney and Perry: It was a rough week for both Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, in which their chief vulnerabilities received a good bit of exposure. In Ohio, Romney tried not to take a hard position on an issue -- a referendum on Ohio’s law curbing collective bargaining rights -- that he had already once supported. And after a day of being criticized, Romney finally told reporters he was 110% in favor of the law. What got exposed: the suspicion that he doesn’t have a core set of beliefs and will say and do anything to win office. Perry, meanwhile, had a double whammy this week: 1) his flirtation with birtherism and 2) his campaign’s announcement that it would limit participation at future debates. What got exposed: the fear that Perry will say and do things that are a bit too extreme for the independent voter, as well as real doubts that he has the debating skills to compete with President Obama. Of course, it’s just one week, but it was a tough one for the two men that have the best shot of being their party’s presidential nominee. Both candidates have a narrative problem, and the one that makes the most progress in fixing that problem will be the nominee.

*** Turning the corner on the economy? Or just more of the same? When it comes to the U.S. economy, however, it’s been a rough last six months for President Obama. But yesterday’s news -- GDP growth at 2.5% for the quarter -- was the best economic news the White House has had in a while, signaling that there probably won’t be a double-dip recession. But as NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R) likes to remind us, every time it seems the economy has turned a corner, there turns out to be another corner. Still, with the Europe deal, coupled with the fact that the GDP numbers were real (not artificially boosted by delayed inventory replenishing or government stimulus), this is the first time that the phrase “green shoots” might actually apply.

*** NH filing deadline, 2012 race to take a back seat: Here are two other macro-points on the presidential contest we want to make. One, today is the filing day in New Hampshire, which means we’ll know for sure what the field is after today; you won’t be able to change it. Two, with the Super Committee’s Thanksgiving deadline coming up, the presidential race might actually take a back seat – at least for a few weeks -- to what’s happening in Washington. Of course, the same dividing lines that caused Boehner and Obama from failing to come to a grand bargain are still there. And now with political finger-pointing taking place among committee members themselves, this seems destined to end in stalemate. What’s worse: There’s talk the deadline of Nov. 23rd is not real. In fact, even the threatened automatic cuts, which wouldn’t go into effect until 2013, seem less real today. Who doesn’t envision Congress saying, “Well, no agreement, the automatic cuts will take place in 2013” -- only to have the lame duck Congress after the ’12 election react to the election results and go in another direction?

*** Holes in Obama’s lobbyist ban: During the 2008 presidential primary campaign, the news media and rival campaigns would knock Barack Obama’s ban on accepting lobbyist donations by pointing out that rule applied only to current registered lobbyists -- not those who were past lobbyists or who worked for firms that lobby. Well, the New York Times today revisits that story. "Through interviews and public records, The New York Times identified at least 15 major fund-raisers for the Obama campaign who have been involved in different aspects of the lobbying and influence industry... While none of the bundlers is currently registered as a federal lobbyist, at least four of them have been in the past. And a number of the bundlers work for prominent lobbying and law firms." Releasing a statement, the Obama campaign pushed back against the article. “[E]very step of the way, the president has promoted reform while candidates like Mitt Romney have thrown up their arms and attempted to thrive off the system as it is. Rather than include that context, the Times let the perfect be the enemy of the good, punishing efforts to promote reform.”

*** While the GOP candidates raise lobbyist money without hesitation: Indeed, the Washington Post today runs a story about the GOP presidential race with this headline: “Lobbyists playing key role in 2012 fundraising.” From the story: “More than 100 registered lobbyists have contributed to Romney, giving nearly $200,000 in direct donations, according to a Washington Post analysis of donor and lobbying records. A team of lobbyist fundraisers has also bundled together nearly $1 million in contributions for Romney’s campaign, disclosure records show.” So the Obama camp is correct: Their lobbying ban goes farther than their opponents do. But the ban -- and their rhetoric around it -- does open them up to criticism when they’re not 100% pure. This is why so many Democrats (including many veterans of the Clinton administration) thought it was a silly pledge in the first place, because it was going to be impossible to follow the SPIRIT of it. The Obama campaign is VERY sensitive to stories like this, because it does cut to the core of who Candidate Obama ran as in 2008. It explains the aggressive statement from them today.  

President Obama's re-election team sets sights on GOP candidate Mitt Romney, releasing a web ad that paints the former governor as a flip flopper. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.

*** On the 2012 trail: It’s a busy day in New Hampshire, with Romney holding a town hall meeting in Manchester, and with Perry filing his candidacy papers in Concord before giving a speech in Manchester… Paul’s also in the Granite State… Bachmann is in Iowa… Gingrich is in South Carolina… And Cain makes several stops throughout Alabama.

*** A weekend heads up: The Des Moines Register poll on the GOP race in the Hawkeye State comes out on Saturday night.

*** Defining 'Occupy': Since Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D) declared she "created much of the intellectual foundation" for the "Occupy Wall Street" protests," the fight has been on to define the movement. The Massachusetts GOP today is out with a Web video hitting Warren called, "Matriarch of Mayhem." The state party and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have been doing as much to target "Occupy" as they've tried to define Warren herself. Their goal: to make it a movement that's hard to support, too extreme. The jury is still out on OWS. The October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed a plurality support the movement (by a 37%-18% margin). But 45% said they either had no opinion, hadn't heard of them, or weren't sure.

*** Issue 2 closer than the polls suggest? Per the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, labor is trying to warn its troops that the contest over the Ohio referendum to keep or repeal its anti-collective-bargaining law is much closer than the polls are showing. “‘Those predicting a blowout for our side are basing their analysis on flawed public polling samples,’ reads the [labor] memo, which was circulated to labor and political operatives involved in the fight by Brian Rothenberg, the executive director of Progress Ohio, which is partly bankrolled by labor… ‘Modeling turnout for an off year ballot initiative is notoriously difficult,’ the memo continues. ‘This is especially true in a state like Ohio where polling on ballot initiatives has been very unreliable.’”

*** Brewer’s power play: And don’t miss this: “Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has taken the first step Wednesday in what had been previously called ‘the nuclear option’ in seeking a more Republican-friendly redistricting map,” Roll Call reports. “The GOP governor began the impeachment process for removing members from the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission by submitting a letter outlining her grievances to commission Chairwoman Colleen Mathis.”

*** Friday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center Housing Commission, on what can be done to help housing… Charlie Cook and Stu Rothenberg look at the latest developments in some key 2012 Senate races… Heritage Action’s Mike Needham on how they’re scoring Congress and what it means for members… NBC’s Brian Williams with a preview of Monday’s premiere of Rock Center… And more 2012 news with former Clinton White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, Comcast’s Robert Traynham and GOP strategist Phil Musser.

*** Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Perry Communications Director Ray Sullivan, Laura Tyson, NBC’s David Gregory, Democratic strategist Tad Devine and GOP strategist Vin Weber, Bloomberg’s Jeanne Cummings, and the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart.

*** On “Meet the Press” this Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory interviews White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe, and the roundtable consists of Walter Isaacson, Tom Brokaw, Jennifer Granholm, and Mike Murphy.

Countdown to Election Day 2011: 11 days
Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 67 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 85 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 95 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 99 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 130 days

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