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First Thoughts: Romney's play for Iowa

Romney’s play for Iowa, and what his new TV ad in the Hawkeye State means… Gingrich says the GOP race is coming down to Newt vs. non-Newt… Cain will make a decision about his candidacy after talking with his wife (face to face), which he hasn’t done yet… Bachmann gets unwanted attention for remarks about Iran… Wrapping Obama’s day in Scranton… And it looks like Cuccinelli will run for VA GOV in 2013.

*** Romney’s play for Iowa: Over the past several months, Mitt Romney has dipped his toes in the Iowa waters, but hasn’t fully jumped in. He would bypass Iowa cattle calls (like the recent Family Leader one) only to visit the Hawkeye State days later. And when asked about his strategy in the state, he’d say things like, "I'd love to win Iowa; any of us would." But his decision to air his first TV ad in the Hawkeye State -- which is essentially the same ad he’s now airing in New Hampshire -- signals he’s now playing in Iowa. Romney might not be all-in, a la Hillary Clinton at this point in ’07 or even Romney himself at this point in ‘07, given that he’s campaigned in the state just four times since officially announcing his bid. But this ad means two things: 1) it makes Newt Gingrich (or any other Republican) beating him in Iowa a significant event, and 2) it allows Romney to essentially win the nomination in January, if he ends up carrying both Iowa and New Hampshire. Risk and reward.

*** Newt vs. not-Newt: Boy, it has been entertaining to watch and listen to Gingrich with the political winds now at his back. Just check out what he said to FOX’s Hannity last night: “And so I think, whereas I would have thought originally it was going to be Mitt and not-Mitt, I think it's going to -- it may turn out to be Newt and not-Newt. And that's a very different formula than, frankly -- I mean we're having to redesign our campaign strategy because we're at least 60 days ahead of where I thought we'd be.”

*** Cain says he’ll make a decision about his candidacy after talking with his wife face to face (which he hasn’t done yet): At a press conference in New Hampshire yesterday, Herman Cain admitted that he hadn’t talked – face to face – with his wife since the Ginger White affair story came out earlier this week. “Since I've been campaigning all week, I haven't had an opportunity to sit down with her and walk through this with my wife and my family. I will do that when I get back home of Friday.” When a reporter followed up to ask if this meant Cain hadn’t spoken with his wife, he responded, “I have, I have discussed this with my wife many times since Monday. You are making an accusation, quite frankly that is not true. Now, I said, I said face to face.” Cain added, “This is another reason why I'm not going to make a decision until after we talk face to face.” Bottom line: Cain is returning back home on Friday, and he’ll make a decision about the state of his campaign after talking with his wife.  

Despite all the talk about Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain "reassessing" his 2012 bid, he's showing no signs he's about to drop out of the race. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

*** Iran, Iran so far away: Meanwhile, in Iowa yesterday, Michele Bachmann attracted unwanted attention for these comments she made about Iran. "You may have heard that there was a break in at the British embassy, and the British had to pull their people out,” she said, per NBC’s Jamie Novogrod. “That's exactly what I would do. We wouldn't have an American embassy in Iran. I wouldn't allow that to be there, because they are a state sponsor of terror." The reason for the unwanted attention: The U.S. has not had an embassy in Iran for more than 30 years. The campaign later released this statement: "Congresswoman Bachmann is a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and is fully aware that we do not have an embassy in Iran and have not had one since 1980. She was agreeing with the actions taken by the British to secure their embassy personnel and was speaking in the hypothetical, that if she was president of the United States and if we had an embassy in Iran, she would have taken the same actions as the British.”

*** Wrapping Obama’s day in Scranton: Turning to President Obama’s stop in Scranton, PA yesterday, the White House can’t be pleased with its political prospects in Pennsylvania. But it can be pleased by the coverage his visit got from the state press. Here’s the headline from the Scranton Times-Tribune: “‘I don’t quit.’” From the story: “Showing hints of a feistiness that a friendly audience urged Wednesday and that Democrats say is required to win re-election, President Barack Obama pushed for renewal and expansion of an existing Social Security payroll tax cut to benefit the middle class…” Here’s the lead from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (although the story didn’t make the paper’s front page): “In a fiery bid to identify his policy agenda with the nation's values, President Barack Obama urged voters Wednesday to press Congress to extend and expand a payroll tax cut.” Remember, while the national press largely ignores many of these campaign-style policy events (since they are repetitive talking points), they work on the local level, which is what the White House is more concerned about.

*** A little 2013 news: It seems that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) could very well end up running for governor in 2013, which could produce a primary fight between him and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), whom term-limited Gov. Bob McDonnell has endorsed. The Washington Post: “Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) will reveal his plans next week to run for governor in 2013, according to well-placed Republican sources. Cuccinelli, a tea party hero who garnered national attention for suing the federal government over the health-care law, expects to make a formal announcement after the legislative session in the spring.” The Post adds that Cuccinelli would likely defeat Bolling in a primary. “Political observers say that Cuccinelli would easily win a nomination contest but could have a more difficult time in a general election, where successful Republicans often play down their conservative credentials.” McDonnell and Bolling cut a deal in 2009 and prevented a primary. Don’t expect Bolling to cut any sort of deal with Cuccinelli.

*** On the 2012 trail: Gingrich spends his day campaigning in Iowa… Cain, Huntsman, and Paul are in New Hampshire, and Cain meets with the Union Leader editorial page (which has already endorsed Gingrich)… Cain then heads to Tennessee to speak at Middle Tennessee State University… Bachmann holds a media avail in Florida… And Perry, in California, tapes an interview with Jay Leno.

*** Thursday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) from the RGA meeting in Orlando… The Economist’s Greg Ip and National Journal’s Jim Tankersley on the market’s rise this week… NBC News Campaign Embed Alex Moe on Gingrich’s Iowa swing… NBC’s Kristen Welker with the latest on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Myanmar… Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) on whether he thinks some in his party aren’t living in reality when it comes to the economy… And more 2012 news with TIME’s Mike Duffy, the Washington Post’s Perry Bacon and syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker.

*** Thursday’s “Jansing & Co.” line-up: MSNBC’s Chris Jansing interviews Politico’s Mike Allen and the AP’s Liz Sidoti, as well as National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar.

*** Thursday’s “MSNBC Live with Thomas Roberts” line-up: MSNBC’S Thomas Roberts interviews DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Karen Hunter and J.P. Freire (on Newt vs. Romney); and Melissa Harris Perry on Cain.

*** Thursday’s “NOW with Alex Wagner” line-up: Alex Wagner’s guests include The Nation’s Ari Melber, the AP’s Kasie Hunt, Politico’s Ben White, and MSNBC analyst Richard Wolffe.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, Joe Klein on TIME’s cover story “Why Don’t They Like Me” about Romney, GOP Sen. Bob Corker (on the failure of the Super Committee and payroll taxes), NBC’s Chuck Todd, Ambassador Martin Indyk, MSNBC political analyst Karen Finney, former Rep. Susan Molinari, and ONE Campaign’s Michael Elliott on World AIDS.

*** Thursday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall”: MSNBC’s Tamron Hall interviews Politico’s Nia-Malika Henderson and MSNBC contributor Michael Smerconish.

Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 33 days
Countdown to New Hampshire primary: 40 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 51 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 61 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 65 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 96 days
Countdown to Election Day: 343 days

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