THE MORNING LINE -- August 15, 2011 at 8:56 AM EDT
Reshuffled GOP Field Takes Form
Texas Gov. Rick Perry addresses a Republican fundraiser dinner in Waterloo, Iowa. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
WATERLOO, Iowa | With Texas Gov. Rick Perry's entrance into the race, Tim Pawlenty's departure from it and Rep. Michele Bachmann's weekend straw poll victory solidifying her top-tier Iowa status, the dynamics driving the battle for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination began to solidify as the candidates prepare to enter a concentrated and intense six month stretch leading up to the caucuses here early next year.
The new phase of the nomination battle began in earnest Sunday evening at the Electric Park Ballroom in Waterloo, where Perry made his Iowa debut at the local county Republican organization fundraiser dinner, which drew tons of national press coverage.
After Perry announced he would make his first Iowa appearance in Bachmann's hometown, she scheduled a stop at the dinner, too. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum sought to increase his visibility in the wake of his fourth-place showing at the straw poll by showing up as well.
It was Perry's night to shine. The Texan worked the ballroom, shaking hands and making conversation with each and every table. And when he addressed the crowd, he received an enthusiastic response.
"Making sure we have a candidate that can beat Barack Obama is the most important thing we do," Perry told the crowd to great applause.
Bachmann, who provided her own television-friendly lighting at the event, arrived late and did not work the crowd. After her remarks, she stayed on stage to sign autographs and memorabilia.
The race in Iowa, home to the first-in-the-nation caucuses, is shaping up to be a battle between Perry and Bachmann, as Mitt Romney continues to focus his early-state energies in New Hampshire.
"Voters will have some choices. Iowans are never taken for granted. You come and stay," Bachmann campaign manager Ed Rollins told reporters after his candidate spoke.
If Perry and Bachmann remain equally matched here leading up the caucuses, that may help Romney stay above the fray and continue to keep his focus on a general election against President Obama.
In a sign that the establishment core of the Republican Party will start to publicly doubt Bachmann, see this Wall Street Journal editorial
However, if Bachmann flames out and Perry proves formidable early on in his candidacy, a prolonged Perry vs. Romney battle may begin sooner than Romney would like.
OBAMA HITS THE ROAD
President Obama has a campaign of his own planned for this week and will kick off a multi-state Midwestern bus tour Monday in Cannon Falls, Minn., focused on jobs and the economy.
"The President will discuss ways to grow the economy, strengthen the middle class and accelerate hiring in communities and towns across the nation and hear directly from Americans, including small business owners, local families, private sector leaders, rural organizations, and government officials," a White House statement said.
President Obama will hold two town halls Monday -- one in Cannon Falls and the other in Decorah, Iowa.
The White House says it wants to focus on creating jobs now that the caustic debt limit debate is behind them. It's clear why job is the issue:With the economy back on shaky ground and unemployment hovering steadily above 9 percent, President Obama's approval rating in the daily Gallup poll is at an all-time low. Just 39 percent of Americans approve of his performance.
Gallup provides some context in an Aug. 12 post: Gallup's numbers tracking a steep decline in confidence in the economy aren't matched by a similar steep decline in Mr. Obama's approval rating.
However, Gallup's Frank Newport notes:
"There is little doubt that a president's job approval rating often reflects Americans' views of the economy. The job approval ratings of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Carter dropped into the 20% range in the later part of their first and only terms as a result of bad economies, and of course, both lost their bids for re-election. Bill Clinton maintained high approval ratings even while embroiled in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, in part due to the surging economy."
For more on the trip, read Rebecca Kaplan and Jim O'Sullivan's piece in the National Journal:
"Across southern Minnesota, northern and eastern Iowa, and northwestern Illinois, Obama is slated to visit five towns whose aggregate population, according to the 2010 census, crept just north of 15,000.
"The best part about these towns? They're doing darn well in the face of the country's worst economic decline since the Great Depression.
"Where the country faces an unemployment rate stubbornly stuck in the 9-point range, the four counties Obama will visit top out at 7.7 percent in Henry County, Ill. The lowest, in Winnishiek County, Iowa, is a mere 5.9 percent."
The piece also points out that President Obama won four of the five districts he plans to visit, while four of the five have GOP representatives, suggesting he's trying out a campaign message on voters who supported him in 2008 but have since swayed to the Republicans.
PAWLENTY'S NEXT CAMPAIGN
What's next for Pawlenty? His bid for the presidency is over, but the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the chairman of the Minnesota GOP wants Pawlenty to run for Senate in 2012 against Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
"I won't be running against Klobuchar in 2012," Pawlenty told the paper.
Pawlenty could also run against Sen. Al Franken in 2014.
However, the Star Tribune quotes multiple allies who predict Pawlenty will be back.
"This may close the chapter on part of his political career. But it doesn't end the book," said state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington.
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