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First Thoughts: Four storylines you shouldn't miss

Four storylines you shouldn’t miss in from our new NBC/WSJ poll: 1) Perry’s candidacy is in serious trouble… 2) Obama still enjoys incredible support among African Americans… 3) Obama’s weakness with the middle of the country… 4) Americans are looking for a populist… Cain to hold press conference to defend himself from latest accusation… White House news: Rouse steps up, Daley steps back… The five Election 2011 contests we’re watching today… And Senate Dems gets their candidate in North Dakota.

*** Four storylines you shouldn’t miss: Beyond the big headlines from our new NBC/WSJ poll (the public’s pessimism, President Obama’s upside-down approval rating, Romney and Cain leading the GOP race and the president's surprising leads over his potential GOP foes given the pessimistic views of his presidency), there are four important storylines you shouldn’t miss. The first: Rick Perry’s candidacy is in serious trouble and he might not be able to recover. In our first survey after the sexual-harassment allegations against Herman Cain surfaced, it's Perry that actually lost ground in the Republican horserace (from 16% in October to 10% now) -- while Mitt Romney (from 23% to 28%) and Newt Gingrich (from 8% to 13%) gained ground, and Cain actually stayed steady (from 27% to 27%). In addition, in a hypothetical two-way GOP race, Romney leads Perry by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, 62%-33%. (By comparison, Romney runs neck-and-neck against Cain in a similar two-way race, 49%-48%.) And Perry’s fav/unfav among REPUBLICAN primary voters is a pedestrian 33%-23%, versus Cain’s 52%-19% and Romney’s 46%-17%. Re-read those last set of numbers: Perry has HIGHER negative ratings than either Cain or Romney (at least before yesterday's new Cain allegation).

*** Obama’s strength with African Americans: A second storyline you shouldn’t miss is Obama’s incredible strength with African-American voters. While some Beltway chatter and commentary has suggested that the president is losing support with these voters, our NBC/WSJ poll -- which included an oversample of 400 black respondents -- paints a very different picture. According to the survey, 91% of them approve of Obama’s job (versus 44% among all poll respondents); 49% of them believe the country is headed in the right direction (versus 19% of all respondents); 92% would vote for Obama over Romney (versus 49%); 93% would vote for Obama over Cain (versus 53%); and 59% of them say they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting in 2012. If Obama wins re-election next year, he can thank this support from African Americans and (to a lesser extent) Latino voters. By the way, the president doesn't lose any African-American support even in the hypothetical three-way matchups with Ron Paul or Michael Bloomberg. The president does NOT have a problem with African-Americans; folks should stop wasting news ink and bandwidth on that topic. Beyond one or two grumpy members of the Congressional Black Caucus, there's no ACTUAL evidence in the community at-large.

*** Obama’s weakness with the middle of the country: Here’s a third storyline: If Obama is sitting pretty with his African-American base, the same can’t be said with the middle of the country. In our poll, 56% of independents, 57% of suburban residents, and 52% of folks from the Midwest disapprove of the president’s job. And in a hypothetical match-up against Romney, independents and suburban residents swing for Romney, while folks from the Midwest are split between Obama and Romney. So if Obama’s base could explain why he wins re-election, his struggles with the middle of the country could explain why he loses in 2012.

*** Looking for a populist: And here’s a fourth storyline: Heading into 2012, America is looking for a populist. According to the poll, a whopping 76% agree with the statement that the current economic structure of the country is out of balance and favors a small proportion of the rich over the rest of the country. However, another 53% of respondents agree with the statement that the national debt must be cut significantly by reducing spending and the size of government. By the way, nearly 40% of all those surveyed agree with BOTH statements about the unfairness of the economic system and the size of government issue. Also, half of all respondents in the poll identify with either the Occupy Wall Street movement or the Tea Party (and 4% of all respondents identify with both). There's an angry electorate out there, ideologically spread across the political spectrum. If the major party nominees are Obama and Romney, can either be seen as a convincing populist that will fill this void? Or are we headed for a multi-candidate field with 3rd and 4th party candidates for the general?

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll looks at voters' sentiments one year ahead of the presidential election. NBC's Chuck Todd has more.

*** Cain to hold press conference to defend himself: This sums up your race for the GOP presidential nomination: Yesterday, Gloria Allred and a client made new sexual-harassment allegations against Herman Cain at the Friar’s Club, and Cain made his rebuttal on Jimmy Kimmel. And today, at 3:00 pm ET in Scottsdale, AZ, Cain will hold a press conference to address these new charges.

*** Rouse steps up, Daley steps back: As we and Bloomberg News reported over a month ago, White House senior adviser Pete Rouse was stepping up his day-to-day duties in running the West Wing, especially as it relates to dealing with Congress. And today’s Wall Street Journal report formalizes that news: “On Monday, [White House Chief of Staff Bill] Daley turned over day-to-day management of the West Wing to Pete Rouse, a veteran aide to President Obama, according to several people familiar with the matter… The recalibration of Mr. Daley's portfolio, agreed to by Mr. Obama, is designed to smooth any kinks in the president's team as it braces for the overlapping demands of governing while campaigning for re-election, people familiar with the matter said. The West Wing is preparing for budget battles with Congress and is seeking to use its executive powers more extensively.”


White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley at the G20 Summit in Cannes, France, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011.

*** On the 2012 trail: The day before tomorrow’s CNBC debate in Michigan, Santorum makes several campaign stops in New Hampshire.

*** The five contests we’re watching today: It’s Election Day 2011, and here are the five contests we’re watching today, as we wrote yesterday: 1) the referendum on the anti-collective-bargaining law in Ohio, where polls close at 7:30 pm ET; 2) the governor’s race in Kentucky, where all polls close at 7:00 pm ET; 3) the governor’s race in Mississippi, where polls close at 8:00 pm ET; 4) the “personhood”/abortion amendment in Mississippi; and 5) the battle of control for the state Senate in Virginia, where polls close at 7:00 pm ET.

*** Dems get their candidate in North Dakota: Democrats are facing an uphill challenge to hold on to the Senate seat that Kent Conrad (D) is vacating after next year in red North Dakota. But they are celebrating the news that Heidi Heitkamp (D) has entered the race. DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil today released recent Democratic polling data showing that likely GOP nominee Rick Berg leads a generic Democrat by just four points, 44%-40%. “A ‘generic Democrat’ is only four points down from Berg in a state that does not like generic Democrats,” Cecil writes. “Heidi Heitkamp is no generic Democrat. She is an independent, reform-minded, fiscal conservative, who is widely known across the state for her tough, principled leadership as Attorney General and her fight against big tobacco companies to help North Dakota taxpayers.”

*** Tuesday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up:  Digging into the new NBC/WSJ poll with pollsters Peter Hart and Micah Roberts… One of us (!!!) with more on today's votes… NBC's Pete Williams on changes in state voter identification laws… NBC's Kelly O'Donnell on the outlook for 2012 Senate races… And more campaign trail news with NPR'S Ari Shapiro, the Washington Post's Anne Kornblut and former DNC spokesman and Democratic strategist Karen Finney.

*** Tuesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, NBC’s Pete Williams, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS), the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, and strategists Bob Shrum (D) and Vin Weber (R).

Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 56 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 74 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 84 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 88 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 119 days

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