Romney’s clear path… But history also teaches us that there will still be twists and turns ahead… A tale of two responses (by Cain and Perry)… Perry’s Top 10… Is being the Romney alternative like being the drummer for Spinal Tap?… Obama to head to Hawaii and Australia… American Crossroads dominates the outside-group airwaves… And Bachmann, Wasserman Schultz to appear on “Meet the Press.”
*** Romney’s clear path: After Herman Cain’s defiant news conference on Tuesday and after Rick Perry’s brain freeze at Wednesday night’s CNBC debate, Mitt Romney’s path to the GOP presidential nomination is now WIDE open. In fact, not since Bob Dole in 1996 has a candidate been such a clear front-runner right before the primaries and caucuses begin. The ’96 comparison is also instructive: Dole still lost New Hampshire to Pat Buchanan. What this all means: While Romney looks to be on his way to the nomination -- and the Obama campaign and the DNC have been under that impression for months -- we’re still likely to have plenty of twists and turns ahead. And keep this in mind: If Romney doesn’t win either Iowa or South Carolina, there’s a much greater chance of a long primary season, because not winning EITHER early state dominated by conservatives will be the BIG sign that Romney hasn’t sealed the deal with heart and soul of the Republican electorate. But as things stand right now, Romney’s also very capable of winning an Iowa or South Carolina. And if he does, and couples it with wins in BOTH New Hampshire and Florida, this race will be over by Feb. 1.
*** A Tale of Two Reponses: This week also brought us two different responses to two different damaging stories for the GOP presidential candidates. Earlier this week, Cain’s campaign lashed out at one of his accusers (Sharon Bialek); the candidate himself held a defiant news conference where he maintained that all the different sexual-harassment allegations against him are false; Cain also blamed the “Democrat machine” for the accusations against him (after previously pointing his finger at the Perry campaign and news media); and he doubled down on the situation he’s facing by referring to Nancy Pelosi as “Princess Nancy,” for which he later apologized -- sort of. But Perry’s response to his debate flub has been entirely different. He quickly owned up to the mistake, gave a round of conciliatory interviews, and tried to make light of the situation by appearing on Letterman last night. Perry’s actions are by someone who appears to still think that he can be the nominee and a plausible challenger to President Obama. Cain’s response is that of a candidate who appears more interested in keeping his most rabid supporters with him. The Daily Beast’s Jill Lawrence makes a similar comparison.
*** Perry’s Top 10: Indeed, here is the Top 10 list Perry delivered last night on late-night talk show, per NBC’s Carrie Dann:
10) Actually there were three reasons I messed up last night. One was the nerves, two was the headaches, three...um....um... oops.
9) I don't know what you're talking about, I think things went well
8) Hey, I was up late last night watching Dancing with the Stars
7) I thought the debate was tonight
6) You try concentrating with Mitt Romney smiling at you. That is one handsome dude.
5) Um... El Nino?
4) I had a five-hour energy drink six hours before the debate.
3) I really hoped to get on my favorite talk show but instead I ended up here
2) I wanted to help take the heat off my buddy Herman Cain.
1) I just learned Justin Bieber is my father.
*** Romney alternative = Spinal Tap drummer? Here’s a final point on the 2012 Republican race: The candidate who has tried to be the alternative to Romney (first Pawlenty, then Bachmann, then Perry and Cain) has continued to trip up. It’s a lot like being a drummer for Spinal Tap or the wearer of that Brady Bunch tiki necklace.
Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry is trying to salvage his campaign after an embarrassing blunder during Wednesday's debate. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
*** On the 2012 trail: Bachmann and Perry attend a Veterans Day parade in South Carolina… Romney, also in South Carolina, holds a roundtable discussion with veterans… Huntsman is in New Hampshire, where he pays respect at a veterans’ cemetery… And Santorum is also in South Carolina.
*** Another debate! Why are many of the candidates in South Carolina today? Well, there’s another GOP presidential debate -- set for tomorrow -- in the state, and it’s hosted by CBS and National Journal and moderated by Scott Pelley and Major Garrett. It will be the second debate in three days. The topic: foreign policy. And it takes place at 8:00 pm ET (up against Oregon-Stanford). Luckily for CBS, though, Clemson and South Carolina have noon games.
*** Bon voyage: At 11:00 am ET, President Obama (along with the first lady) participates in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, and then he departs for San Diego, where he will attend tonight’s North Carolina-Michigan State basketball game aboard the USS Carl Vinson. And then he’s off to Hawaii (to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC), and then to Australia. It’s worth noting that he’ll be out of the country for several days while Congress deals with another continuing resolution to keep the government open and the Super Committee try to wrap up their work. In fact, the president appears to be testing the Southeast Asian/Pacific jinx by setting up this trip at this crucial time in Congress. Could we be on our way back to Washington sooner than we think?
*** Why did the ad cross the road? To get to the other side: The multi-million-dollar TV ad buy American Crossroads is airing against President Obama in key battleground states -- or it’s ad buy targeting Tim Kaine in Virginia -- is just another example of: 1) how much money Crossroads has, and 2) that Democrats are nowhere ready to fight back in Super PAC war, at least not yet.
*** Friday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: White House Deputy Senior Adviser Stephanie Cutter on her last day on the job and her transition to be deputy campaign manager for Obama 2012… “Capitol Punishment” author Jack Abramoff on his time in Washington and prison… Latest on the Penn State sex abuse case with NBC’s Ron Mott and Anne Thompson… Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) on the budget battle and the GOP presidential nomination fight… And more 2012 news with National Review/Bloomberg View’s Ramesh Ponnuru, the Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson and Abraham Center President Robert Wexler.
*** Friday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Democrats John Podesta and Howard Dean, South Carolina GOP Chair Chad Connelly, Comcast’s Bob Neal (on the Penn State sex-abuse scandal), the New York Times’ Nick Kristof, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, and the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson.
*** Saturday’s and Sunday’s “UP with Chris Hayes” line-ups: MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and his panel interview Democratic congressional candidate Ilya Sheyman (on Saturday) and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (on Sunday).
*** Saturday’s and Sunday’s “Weekends with Alex Witt” line-up: On Saturday, MSNBC’s Alex Witt interviews former RNC Chair Michael Steele and former White House Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki. Witt also interviews NBC's Tom Brokaw as part of her "Office Politics" series.
*** Sunday’s “Meet the Press” line-up: NBC’s David Gregory interviews Michele Bachmann and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. And for his weekly “PRESS Pass” interview, Gregory spoke with former Dem Sen. Chris Dodd.
Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 54 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 72 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 82 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 86 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 117 days
Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower