Crunch time for Romney… And crunch time for Newt, too… With three weeks of TV advertising time before Christmas, don’t lose sight of the outside groups… Four storylines from our new NBC-Marist polls… Who benefits from a strong Ron Paul?... Paul and Gingrich up with new TV ads… Cain is hardly exiting the political stage… And the White House makes its push for Cordray.
*** Crunch time for Romney: Last week was rough one for Mitt Romney. His critics jumped all over his testy/prickly interview with FOX’s Bret Baier. He didn’t wear well in a focus group of Republican primary voters in Fairfax, VA. Over the weekend, two Iowa polls (NBC-Marist and the Des Moines Register) found him trailing Newt Gingrich in the Hawkeye State, and another NBC-Marist poll showed his lead narrowing in New Hampshire. You could even argue that Herman Cain’s suspended campaign was additional bad news for Romney, because polls -- including our NBC-Marist survey -- find that Cain’s supporters tend to break for Gingrich and Ron Paul over Romney. So that’s the bad news for Romney. The good news is that he has three weeks until the Christmas holidays to right the ship. During that time, we’ll see two more debates in Iowa (on Dec. 10 and Dec. 15), as well as a significant surrogate (New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie) campaigning for him in Iowa later this week.
*** Flying by the seat of his pants: The next two or three weeks are also crunch time for Gingrich, as he seeks to capitalize on his new front-runner status. As the New York Times writes, “Surging in polls is one thing. But as Newt Gingrich seeks to turn his impressive performance in surveys into votes, he is scrambling madly to build the kind of organization that Mitt Romney has methodically put in place for a year, one that will let him compete through all 50 contests, often in multiple states at once… [A]s an adviser to his skeletal Iowa operation admitted, ‘The reality is we’re flying by the seat of the pants.’” Yet get this: Per NBC’s Alex Moe, Gingrich is up with his first TV ad, a positive 60-second spot that will air in Iowa. And as one of us notices, the ad’s music seems to borrow from the movie “Rudy.” Actually, who doesn’t want their political campaign compared to Rudy? We’re sure that was no accident.
*** Don’t lose sight on the outside groups: Here’s a question we have: Who is going to do the dirty work for Romney to soften up Gingrich? Will it be that pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, which has LOTS of money, and hasn’t spent it yet? Another outside group? Remember, it was an outside group -- fronted by Robert Gibbs, of all people -- that started running TV ads hitting Howard Dean in late 2003/early 2004 to stop Dean and eventually move the nomination back to the “establishment.”
*** Four storylines from our polls: Our NBC-Marist polls of Iowa and New Hampshire contained four storylines. One, Gingrich is surging in both states. He's leading in Iowa at 26% among likely caucus-goers, followed by Romney at 18%, Paul at 17%, and Cain and Perry at 9%. (When you reallocate the Cain supporters' second choices, it's Gingrich at 28%, Paul and Romney at 19%, and Perry at 10%.) Also, in New Hampshire, Gingrich has gone from 4% in October to 23% now -- a 19-point jump. A second storyline is Romney’s decline in both states; he dropped eight points in Iowa and six points in New Hampshire. (LARGE majorities of Republicans believe Romney’s a moderate, not a conservative; can a “moderate” win a Republican primary?) A third is Rick Perry treading water, despite spending a significant amount of money on TV ads. He’s at 9% in Iowa (a two-point drop since October) and at 3% in New Hampshire (a four-point decline). Remember, no candidate has spent MORE money on TV ads so far than Perry. And a fourth storyline is Ron Paul’s strength -- he’s at 17% in Iowa and 16% in New Hampshire. And that Iowa number climbs when Cain’s not included.
*** Who benefits from a strong Paul? Paul’s strength raises this question: Who benefits in a three-way contest consisting of Gingrich, Romney, and Paul? Is it Romney, because Paul holds Gingrich back among Tea Party supporters? Or is it Gingrich? Don’t forget: Just four years ago, Fred Thompson’s campaign helped dilute Mike Huckabee’s support (especially in South Carolina), which cleared the way for John McCain to win the GOP nomination. Paul’s 15%-20% in primaries -- and it’s not like he’s in this for the short haul -- means the “winning” number in states will be under 50%. Isn’t that exactly what Romney needs? By the way, NBC’s Anthony Terrell reports that Paul is up with a new TV ad that will air in Iowa and New Hampshire. “You want big cuts? Ron Paul’s been screaming it for years,” the ad states, adding that Paul wants to eliminate the Education, HUD, Commerce, Interior, and Energy departments. "Later, bureaucrats. That's how Ron Paul rolls.”
*** Cain is hardly exiting the political stage: And while Herman Cain suspended his campaign on Saturday, he isn’t necessarily exiting stage left. Tonight, at 7:30 pm ET, Cain attends an Oklahoma Republican Party “2012 victory” event in Oklahoma City.
NBC's Domenico Montanaro reports on Herman Cain's rollercoaster campaign and why it the Cain train went off the tracks.
*** On the 2012 trail: Gingrich meets with Donald Trump in New York City… Romney raises money in California… And Santorum makes several campaign stops in Iowa.
*** The White House’s push for Cordray: Turning to the activity at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Obama White House is pushing to get GOP senators to support Richard Cordray nominated to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Politico: “President Barack Obama is targeting Red State Republican senators opposed to Richard Cordray’s nomination as director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — part of his larger strategy to portray the GOP as pawns of Wall Street. Cordray, a well-regarded former Democratic Ohio attorney general and five-time Jeopardy! champion, is likely to be voted down Thursday by a filibuster-proof bloc of GOP senators who don’t want anyone at the helm of the watchdog until the agency’s powers are restricted. That stance, Obama advisers believe, puts GOP senators at risk from constituents who want to see the agency crack down on the financial services industry, especially payday lenders.” The push for Cordray is all part of the White House’s push to make the president look like the populist in Washington. See tomorrow’s “Teddy Roosevelt” narrative that the White House is trying to create. (We’ll have more on that tomorrow.)
*** Monday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: David Axelrod on the president’s re-election campaign… Donald Trump on the GOP field and his upcoming forum… Marist College’s Lee Miringoff on the new NBC/Marist polls in New Hampshire and Iowa… Former Reps. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Martin Frost (D-TX) on festering fiscal friction… And more 2012 news with the AP’s Kasie Hunt, ThinkProgress.org’s Faiz Shakir and the New York Times’ Ross Douthat.
*** Monday’s “NOW with Alex Wagner” line-up: Alex Wagner’s guests include The Nation’s Ari Melber, Politico’s Maggie Haberman, the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis, The Grio’s Joy-Ann Reid, and the Huffington Post’s Trymaine Lee.
*** Monday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up (guest-hosted by Savannah Guthrie): NBC’s Savannah Guthrie interviews Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn, NBC News campaign embed Jamie Novogrod about the Gingrich/Trump meeting, Politico’s Jim VandeHei, Co-founder of “No Labels” Mark McKinnon about the state of the GOP, NBC’s Jay Gray, and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza.
*** Monday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall”: MSNBC’s Tamron Hall interviews Robert Traynham, AB Stoddard, and Michael Smerconish, former Pennsylvania AG Walter Cohen (on the latest Sandusky interview), Tuft University’s Peter Levine, and liberal blogger Jane Hamsher.
Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 29 days
Countdown to New Hampshire primary: 36 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 47 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 57 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 61 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 92 days
Countdown to Election Day: 339 days
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