DES MOINES, Iowa — At a campaign event in Des Moines last night, presidential candidate Michele Bachmann asked if anyone in the crowd at a Polk County Republican party dinner could give her a dollar figure for the national debt.
One audience member immediately chimed in: “$14.3 trillion.”
“That’s why I like Iowans,” Bachmann said, “they are just whip smart.” http://abcn.ws/oHYbe0
Her reply spoke volumes about the week ahead in this state where all of the major candidates will campaign over the next five days and where a fierce competition is underway for a strong showing in Thursday’s Republican presidential debate and Saturday’s straw poll in Ames.
The debate will be the first opportunity that voters here — or anywhere — have had to see all of the candidates on stage together for nearly two months. It also marks the first such gathering to include Jon Huntsman, but more importantly, it comes as we enter a new phase of the Republican presidential primary with fresh economic woes dominating the discussion.
The Ames Straw Poll is an important gauge of organizational strength, but with candidates able to offer supporters free tickets and entice them with Dairy Queen blizzards (Tim Pawlenty) and a live performance by country music star Randy Travis (Michele Bachmann) it may not be an entirely reliable indicator of where voters’ hearts and minds are five or six months before the state’s all-important caucuses.
Nevertheless, the expectations-setting game has been going on for weeks, and most of the candidates are trying to downplay their chances, including two contenders for whom the stakes are high — Bachmann and Pawlenty.
Bachmann, for instance, said last week that she was at a “distinct disadvantage from an organizational standpoint” heading into the straw poll because she has only been an official presidential candidate for a couple of months.
When asked yesterday in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” whether he thought he had to beat Bachmann in the straw poll, Pawlenty, whose campaign has been pouring resources into the state and running television ads, said he did not.
“The Des Moines Register poll, which I think, by most accounts, is the credible benchmark poll here in Iowa, had me in sixth or seventh place just a few weeks ago,” Pawlenty said. “So our goal is to move from the back of the pack standing to something closer to the front. I don't think we need to win it, but we do need to show good progress.”
It is also an important test for wild cards like Ron Paul, whose die-hard supporters often earn him top billing in straw poll contests; Rick Santorum, who has been barnstorming the state in a caravan along with his wife and seven kids; and Herman Cain, who will be meeting Iowans all week and remains popular here. Even long-shot presidential hopeful Thad McCotter, a Republican congressman from Michigan, has purchased a plot of ground at the Ames event to see if his campaign can gain traction.
Other candidates, including front-runner Mitt Romney, Huntsman and Newt Gingrich, will not be formally competing in the straw poll although their names will appear on the ballot. Romney comes to Iowa on Wednesday to hold several campaign events, including a visit to the Iowa State Fair. And then there’s Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose potential entrance into the GOP field looms over the entire week of events in Iowa. Perry is not expected to announce his intentions until later this month.
BOTTOM LINE: While the political consequences of the week ahead in Iowa likely won’t become clear until after the dust settles next Saturday in Ames, the next few days will offer a chance to watch the candidates engage in some good, old-fashioned retail politicking. And to hear from voters in a state that carries outsize influence in the presidential nominating process what they're saying about the GOP field before the post-Labor Day campaign season begins in earnest. Iowa is a state where presidential campaigns can be made or broken, so buckle up for the ride.
THE NOTE ON THE ROAD: All week ABC News reporters, including your Note authors, will be hitting the campaign trail in the Hawkeye State, keeping a close eye on the candidates and talking to Iowa voters along the way. We will also offer complete coverage of Thursday’s debate and Saturday’s Straw Poll in Ames. Keep up with our regular dispatches from the road on ABC.com’s Note blog: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/
Later in the week, ABC News will be broadcasting a special edition of “This Week” from Iowa the day after the Ames Straw Poll anchored by ABC’s Jake Tapper. Special guests will include presidential candidate Michele Bachmann as well as an all-star roundtable.
DEMOCRATS' COUNTER-PROGRAMMING. The Democratic National Committee today announced its push-back to the Republicans’ week in Iowa. Their theme — “Extreme Aims: Wrong for Seniors. Wrong for the Middle Class.” The effort will include a website, a Twitter campaign and on-the-ground events. Today the DNC launched a web video featuring sound bytes from all of the major GOP presidential candidates. WATCH: http://bit.ly/oJPyCS
“When it comes to the GOP presidential candidates and what America will hear from them in Ames this week, they have extreme aims to please the far-right, Tea Party wing of their party and they are following the extreme agenda of Congressional Republicans instead of leading,” said a statement from the DNC.
Also, the Iowa Democratic Party is holding a series of roundtables this week to highlight what they call the “disastrous GOP agenda.” The roundtables, which will be held with state representatives throughout Iowa will culminate with an appearance by Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Des Moines on Friday.
More from the DNC: “The DNC will have a presence on the ground in Iowa beginning on Thursday which will include DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse … as well as other surrogates. Wasserman Schultz will participate in a round table discussion with Iowans on Friday morning in Des Moines, will speak from the Iowa States Fair's famous 'soapbox' and will visit with Democratic activists and supporters of the President at the Iowa Democratic Party's booth at the fair.”
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Zach Wolf talk to Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn about all of this week’s political action in Iowa, including expectations for the major presidential candidates as we enter a busy week of campaigning. Also on the program, Martin Frost, former Democratic congressman from Texas, who will weigh in on a potential presidential bid by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://abcn.ws/toplineliveabc
S&P’S TEA PARTY ‘SURRENDER’? “Standard & Poor’s, the rating company that downgraded the debt of the United States to AA+ from AAA for the first time, now finds itself assailed by investors led by billionaire Warren Buffett for making a political decision that has more to do with Tea Party politics than the financial stability of the U.S.,” Bloomberg News Zeke Faux notes. “S&P officials, shrugging off a $2 trillion calculation error, blamed ‘uncertainty’ in the policymaking process on Aug. 5 when they cut the assessment of the U.S. government’s ability to pay its debt, citing Congress’s failure to agree on as much long-term deficit reduction as the credit-rating company wanted. Buffett, the world’s most successful investor, said S&P erred and the U.S. should be rated ‘quadruple-A.’ … ‘Clearly the ratings downgrade was a ‘political decision’ in the sense that the politics explained the timing of this, because the numbers have been irrefutable for a decade,’ said Robert Litan, vice president for research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri. ‘It gives an enormous amount of ammunition to the Tea Party. They said the deal didn’t go far enough and they’ll say ‘see.’” http://bloom.bg/nrEPqU
ABC’S “THIS WEEK” REPLAY: S&P ON DEFENSE: Standard and Poor's managing director John Chambers defended his agency's controversial decision to downgrade the credit rating of the United States from AAA, saying "it could take awhile" for the U.S. to recover its higher rating because of "political gridlock" in Washington. "We've been saying for some time that the fiscal trajectory of the United States was on a bad path," Chambers said in an interview with "This Week" anchor Christiane Amanpour. Chambers, who serves as chairman of Standard & Poor's sovereign ratings committee, said it may be years before the U.S. recovers its AAA rating, citing examples of countries that took nine to 18 years to get their ratings upgraded after having their credit-worthiness lowered. "If history is our guide, it could take awhile," Chambers said. "The political gridlock in Washington leads us to conclude that policymakers don't have the ability to put the public finances of the U.S. on a sustainable footing." Watch Christian Amanpour’s full interview with Chambers: http://abcn.ws/rmN4Kr
THE NOTE’S INBOX: MITT ROMNEY ON THE DOWNGRADE: “When I was governor, S&P rewarded Massachusetts with a credit rating upgrade for our sound fiscal management and the underlying strength of our economy. That didn’t happen by accident. The president’s failure to put the nation’s fiscal and economic house in order has caused a massive loss of confidence that resulted in an embarrassing downgrade. In the Carter era, it was called ‘malaise.’ Under President Obama, it’s called meltdown.”
RICK PERRY REWIND: SAY A LITTLE PRAYER. Texas Governor Rick Perry invigorated the crowd at "The Response" today, reading scripture passages and leading more than 30,000 people in prayer, ABC’s Arlette Saenz reported this weekend from Houston. “Like all of you, I love this country deeply,” Perry said. “The only thing that you love more is the living Christ.” Perry closed out The Response by boasting about the success of the event, which drew in over 30,000 people. “This is a day that people are going to discuss for years to come,” Perry said. “Beyond my hope that it will begin a renewal of our nation, I sincerely pray that our willingness to stand in the public square to acknowledge the God who made us will inspire others to open their minds and their hearts to their love. I pray there will be families who will welcome God back into their homes. People will be strengthened by his love and by his forgiveness because that is the essential building blocks that will strengthen this nation that we love.” Perry, who is contemplating a presidential run, read scripture from the books of Joel, Isaiah, and Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. There were few references to politics in his brief speech. Perry only remarked that God is not political. “His agenda is not a political agenda. His agenda is a salvation agenda,” Perry said. “He’s wise enough not to be affiliated with any political party.” The Texas governor prayed for the state of the country along with the president, the military, and those killed in the helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
@paulwestdc: The Perry effect? Bachmann ends Des Moines rally with prayer, including for Obama
RECALL DAY DRAWS NEAR IN WISCONSIN. “It's August during an off-year, but it sure doesn't feel that way in Wisconsin,” writes Hotline’s Sean Sullivan. “Voters head to the polls Tuesday in a series of hyper-local elections that have attracted eyepopping sums of money and national attention. On the ballot: six Republican state senators facing recall elections. But more broadly, the elections are a referendum of GOP budget-cutting policies that will be central to the campaign next year for control of the White House and Congress. Tuesday represents the most pivotal day of the months-long recall process that has polarized the state's electorate and attracted millions of dollars in outside spending from groups that wouldn't ordinarily wade into races so far down the ballot. … The stakes are high, with control of the state's upper chamber hanging in the balance. Republicans hold a 19-14 advantage in the state Senate, so Democrats must net three seats during the recall election season to retake the majority. On August 16, two Democratic state senators face recall elections. One other Democrat who faced a recall defeated his opponent in July. What has been a tumultuous political year in the Badger State began back in February, when Republican Gov. Scott Walker unveiled his controversial budget bill, that curbed collective bargaining for public employees. … In retaliation, GOP activists targeted Democrats who fled the state in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to block the budget's enactment, triggering recall elections in three Democratic districts. The candidates aren't the only ones pouring money into these races. They've attracted outside interest groups ranging from, on the left, organized labor, EMILY's List, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Democracy for America to, on the right, Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin and Club for Growth Wisconsin.” http://bit.ly/q6oIr8
OBAMA FEELS THE HEAT FROM BLACK LAWMAKERS. “Black lawmakers are embarking on a month-long campaign Monday to address the staggering unemployment rate among African Americans, an issue that has become a growing source of tension between members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Obama administration,” reports the Washington Post’s Ylan Q. Mui, “Lawmakers have met with the administration three times this year seeking support for programs that specifically address the black community, but President Obama has not backed their proposals. The caucus chairman last week slammed the deal negotiated by the administration to raise the national debt ceiling and cut government spending as a ‘Satan sandwich’ that unfairly harms African Americans. Now, as the CBC launches its most public and coordinated jobs campaign so far, the president is notably absent from the lineup. Instead, the White House has dispatched Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan, who is white, to the event and announced that Obama will embark on his own jobs tour that will take place in the middle of the CBC’s campaign. ‘We want him to know that from this day forward . . . we’ve had it,’ Michigan Rep. John Conyers recently said of the president. ‘We want him to come out on our side and advocate, not to watch and wait.’ The White House did not respond to a request for comment.” http://wapo.st/oFDUHB
TIM GEITHNER REMAINS AT TREASURY. “The secretary informed President Obama that he plans to say on in his position, ending speculation that the last member of President Obama's original economic team would depart. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says President Obama asked Geithner to stay,” ABC’s Tahman Bradley reported on Sunday. http://abcn.ws/nr59lj
BACHMANN DOUBLES DOWN ON GEITHNER. Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann left no doubt about her disapproval of President Obama’s decision to ask Tim Geithner to stay on as Treasury Secretary, calling his retention a “tremendous disservice to the American people.” She told a gathering of the Polk County Republican Party in Des Moines that keeping Geither at the helm of the department was a “bad move” and accused President Obama of failing to “inspire confidence in our markets” “For the sake of the media that are here, please indulge me,” Bachmann said before reading a statement from a sheet of paper. “The president's refusal to remove Treasury Secretary Geithner shows the president has no plan to restore the triple-A credit rating to the United States of America,” she said. “The president is not listening to the people of this country, nor is he providing the leadership that is necessary to bring about economic recovery. I once again, today, in Polk County, Iowa, renew my call for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to resign immediately for the sake of our country and to return our economy to full status.” http://abcn.ws/oHYbe0
NOTED: CALL FOR INTERNS. The Note and the ABC Political Unit are in the market for interns for the Fall of 2011. We require actively enrolled students and we prefer applicants who are spending the semester in DC and can commit a regular 9-5 schedule. E-mail a resume and cover letter to Zachary.B.Wolf@abc.com
@ChadPergram: Dollar hits record low against the Swiss franc. The greenback is off more than 30 percent from its level of a year ago.
(all times local)
* Mitt Romney speaks to the Chamber of Commerce in Concord, N.H., at 9:45 a.m. At noon he addresses the Rotary Club in Manchester. At 6 p.m., Romney holds a town hall meeting with voters in Nashua.
* Tim Pawlenty visits with Viking Magazine Employees in Ames, Iowa at 10 a.m. At 4 p.m., he attends a meet-and-greet in Johnston, and at 5:30 p.m., he speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition House Party in Clive.
* Michele Bachmann attends a town hall meeting in Atlantic, Iowa at 11:45 a.m. At 2:45 p.m., she heads to the "Join me in Ames in 5 Days!" Rally in Council Bluffs.
* Herman Cain stops at Eldon's Restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa at 11 a.m. to meet with the Sioux City Jewish Coalition. At 2 p.m., he drops into Cronk's Cafe in Denison. Then at 4:45 p.m., Cain stops in Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs as part of his Common Sense Solutions Bus Tour.
* Rick Santorum visits Ames, Webster City, Iowa Falls, Mason City, Charles City and Waverly as part of his Santorum Family Tour.
* Thad McCotter attends Concord Coffee and Conversation in Concord, N.H. at 10 a.m. He attends a private meeting at 2 p.m., and at 6:30 p.m., he is one of the featured guests at a meeting with Representative Frank Guinta, R-N.H., in Rochester.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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