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First Thoughts: Newt-mentum

Newt-mentum and what it tells us about the GOP race (and short-term memories)… Cain’s pregnant pause… Romney downplays expectations in Iowa… Perry’s plan to overhaul Washington… The Scott Walker recall battle begins… And a busy day in the Hawkeye State

NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro discuss Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's rise in the polls, who's-where on the campaign trail today, and the recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

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*** Newt-mentum: First it was Donald Trump who surged in the GOP primary polls (though he ultimately decided not to run). Then it was Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, and then Herman Cain. But now with Newt Gingrich becoming the latest Republican presidential candidate to see a surge in the polls, we may have reached the point where Fonzie is putting on his water skis. After all, it was just six months ago when Gingrich tripped all over Paul Ryan's budget plan (spurring an Iowan to tell him, “Why don’t you get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself”); when his purchases at Tiffany's became national news; when he took that widely criticized Greek cruise; and when his campaign team (including loyal aides who had been with him for a long time) quit en masse. But now, just a few months later, he has become the latest flavor of the month. A national CNN poll has Gingrich (at 22%) running neck and neck with Romney (at 24%). And a new Bloomberg poll of Iowa (conducted by Ann Selzer) has him essentially tied in a four-way contest in the Hawkeye State.

*** What all the volatility tells us: As Stu Rothenberg writes about Newt’s rise: “OK, I give up. I don’t know what the heck is going to happen in the Republican race.” This leaves just Ron Paul and Rick Santorum as the only GOP presidential candidates who haven’t enjoyed being the GOP flavor of the month. Good news for them: We have still have two months to go. Of course, all of this volatility underscores the extent to which GOP voters are undecided, the extent to which Mitt Romney hasn’t closed the deal with them (at least not yet), the extent to which the debates have come to matter in the modern TV era, and the extent to which things can still change before the contests begin in January. And Newt’s current rise underscores how much can change -- and how much people can forget -- in just a few months.

*** Cain’s pregnant pause: As for the past flavor of the month -- Herman Cain -- his pregnant pause in answering a simple question Libya shouldn’t come as a surprise. As the New York Times reminds us, Cain’s “comments about Libya came after a string of other provocative remarks about foreign policy and related issues. Those include a statement published Monday in which Mr. Cain suggested that most American Muslims are extremists; a contradictory answer about waterboarding during a Republican presidential primary debate on Saturday focusing on foreign policy; and his statement that if Al Qaeda or another terrorist group demanded, he would consider authorizing the release of every detainee at Guantánamo Bay in return for the release of one American soldier.” In addition, Cain has frequently said that he’ll rely on his advisers to help him make foreign-policy decisions.

GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain badly flubbed a question about the war in Libya asked by the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.

*** Romney downplays expectations in Iowa: Romney is planning for another return to Iowa on Nov. 23, NBC’s Garrett Haake reported yesterday. But during a fundraiser in Florida, per the St. Petersburg Times, he downplayed his chances in the Hawkeye State. “Romney told the crowd his campaign calculus was that he could spend nothing [in Iowa] and come in fourth or spend a bit and finish second or third… Romney predicted a Tea Party favorite would win Iowa and that he would take New Hampshire, according to interviews with six people in the audience. Romney told the crowd he would seal the nomination by then winning Florida's Republican contest.” But, as we’ve written before, here’s the problem for Romney: He can’t have Iowa both ways, especially with polls showing him at or essentially tied for the lead there. If he campaigns there (as he’s doing again on Nov. 23), and particularly if he runs TV ads in the state, a second-, third-, or fourth-place finish isn’t going to cut it. As Ricky Bobby said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

*** Perry’s plan to overhaul Washington: Previewing an address he will deliver this morning in Eastern Iowa, Perry last night promised to "uproot" the three branches of government and institute wide-reaching reforms throughout the federal apparatus, NBC’s Carrie Dann reports. "Tomorrow, I'm going to unveil a plan to uproot all three branches of government and overhaul Washington," he said in an address to the Scott County GOP, adding that his plan will "touch each branch of government, because they each have contributed to the demise of America." Perry, Dann adds, said his reform proposal will target "lifetime federal judges who arrogantly rewrite our laws from the bench," as well as the "permanent bureaucracy of the executive branch, which thwarts the will of the American people to advance a big government agenda." And he pledged to outline "dramatic reforms for a Congress that not only spends too much but is IN Washington too much."

*** The Scott Walker recall battle begins: Just when you thought the political battles in the Industrial Midwest were over -- first after those state Senate recalls last summer in Wisconsin and then after last week’s referendum over Ohio’s anti-collective-bargaining law -- think again. At midnight last night, Wisconsin Democrats started their drive to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). In order to trigger a recall election, Democrats need to collect more than 540,000 signatures in 60 days. Well, Wisconsin Republicans have launched an effort to report petition fraud, they say. And last night -- during Green Bay’s “Monday Night Football” game – Walker aired a TV ad against the recall. “Wisconsin’s best days are yet to come,” Walker says to the camera. “It won’t happen overnight, but we are on our way.” The screen then flashes, “Progress: Yes; Recall: No.”

*** On the 2012 trail: It’s another busy day in the Hawkeye State: Cain, Perry, Santorum, and Gingrich are all in Iowa… And Romney discusses jobs and the economy in Columbia, SC.

*** Tuesday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up (with guest host Chris Cillizza): Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) on why nobody likes Congress… Senate strategy session with NRSC’s Rob Jesmer and DSCC’s Guy Cecil… The latest on Occupy Wall Street protestors being moved out of the park with NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo… Washington Post’s Eli Saslow on his book “Ten Letters” about President Obama’s correspondence with people across the country… Hotline’s Reid Wilson on the official start of the recall effort against Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI)… And more 2012 news with AP’s Kasie Hunt, Washington Post’s Perry Bacon and Club for Growth President and former Rep. Chris Chocola (R-IN).

*** Tuesday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: MSNBC’s Chris Jansing interviews National Journal’s Major Garrett and Time’s Jay Newton-Small (on Cain’s brain freeze and Newt’s rise in the polls), as well as Dem Rep. Loretta Sanchez.

*** Tuesday’s “MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts” line-up: MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts interviews former Gabby Giffords intern Daniel Hernandez.

*** Tuesday’s “NOW with Alex Wagner” line-up: MSNBC’s Alex Wagner’s panel includes Wes Moore, Jedediah Bila, Michael Scherer, John Heilemann, and Michael Steele.

*** Tuesday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews GQ’s Devin Gordon (on the magazine’s interview with Cain), Dem Rep. Xavier Becerra, Dem Rep. Elijah Cummings, two guests on the Keystone XL matter, and Romney foreign-policy adviser Richard Williamson.

Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 49 days
Countdown to New Hampshire primary: 56 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 67 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 77 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 81 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 112 days
Countdown to Election Day: 357 days

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