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GOP Hopefuls Spread Out; Obama Gives Chase By Bus

JOHN YDSTIE, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie. President Obama is vacationing on Martha's Vineyard this week and that gives the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination a chance to fill the news void. The challenge for most of them: being heard over all the shouting about the newest candidate, Texas governor Rick Perry.

We've invited two political analysts to our studios to talk about the campaign strategies going forward. Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and a former communications director for the Democratic National Committee. Welcome.

KAREN FINNEY: Good to be with you.

YDSTIE: And Matthew Continetti is opinion editor of the Weekly Standard. Thanks for being here, Matt.

MATT CONTINENTTI: Thanks for having me, John

YDSTIE: Well, let's start by hearing a bit from President Obama's bus tour of the Midwest this past week. Here he is in Alpha, Illinois on Wednesday.

President BARACK OBAMA: We're tired of the posturing. We don't want more press releases. We want action. We want everybody to work together and stop drawing lines in the sand and saying we're so rigid, we're not going to do this, we're not going to do that no matter what. Think about country ahead of party.

YDSTIE: Matt, Republicans complain that the President was doing the posturing and that the tour was really aimed at the next election for him. Is this tougher language an effective strategy for President Obama?

CONTINENTTI: Well, I guess we'll see whether it's effective or not. I mean, this week did have Obama's lowest rating in the Gallup Polls, so by that measure the strategy hasn't been effective, but of course it's also the only strategy left to President Obama having pretty much put in as much of his agenda as he can...

YDSTIE: Karen Finney, President Obama did spend a good deal of his tour blaming Republicans for the gridlock in Washington. Does that detract from his message about boosting employment? Is it an effective strategy, to start pointing at Republicans now?

FINNEY: You know, we'll see because the strategy really that we saw was really to run against a do-nothing Congress without necessarily making the distinction that I think Democrats would like him to make. And the problem really is not about not having enough ideas. At this point it's really about getting something done and I think Obama was speaking to that because I think what the polls have shown and what the markets have shown us in the last few weeks is that's what people are concerned about.

YDSTIE: So can the Republican presidential hopefuls actually make some hay while the President is on vacation in Martha's Vineyard? Or is Governor Rick Perry the only one who's going to make hay?


CONTINENTTI: They'll all try. The fundamental issue is the economy and in that sense, Governor Perry has a pretty good message to go after President Obama, not on vacation but on actual record when it comes to jobs.

YDSTIE: And he just pretty much grabbed the headlines this past week with his announcement that he's running for the nomination. Let's hear a little bit of what he said.

Governor RICK PERRY: Mr. President, let us tell you something. You cannot win the future by selling America off to foreign creditors.


PERRY: We cannot afford four more years of this rudderless leadership.

YDSTIE: Karen Finney, President Obama has been criticized for having a sort of professorial approach and Mr. Perry comes out with guns blazing. Is the President at risk of being drowned out by Mr. Perry

FINNEY: I don't think so, because remember, when we elected President Obama, that's what we were asking for. We were asking for a guy who would stop with the kind of rhetoric that we had, the cowboy diplomacy. Stop the fighting, which I think he's tried to do. Whether you agree with that or not, if anything, here's a guy who gets criticized for not being tough enough or fighting tough enough.

What I think is interesting with Rick Perry, though, this past week we've seen, I think that's going to work very well for him. I think this guy is, you know, very smart on what he's doing because on the one hand, he is appealing to those Tea Party voters who see themselves as not of the establishment.

He's also trying to appeal to some of the more moderates in his party, knowing that if he does get to a general election that's how - you know, you're going to need those folks to win.

YDSTIE: Matt Continetti, what about that criticism from the Bush/Cheney rogue wing of the party?

CONTINENTTI: You know, when you look at the internal dynamics of the Republican Party, it is anti-establishment and the Tea Party voters, the grassroots activists, they want nothing to do with the old Bush regime, and so every time one of these guys from the Bush White House comes and attacks Rick Perry, that only strengthens him within the party.

He had in my opinion the best launch of any of the candidates now in the field. He stepped on Michele Bachmann's win in the Iowa Straw Poll. He's immediately turned the debate between Perry and Obama rather than the internal GOP fighting. The question is, does he have meat on the bones, the policy meat that he can come and give to the voters? Or is it just going to be, you know, don't do anything to help solve the debt crisis or deal with a nuclear Iran.

YDSTIE: What about campaign strategies going into the fall? What about for President Obama? What about for, let's say, Mitt Romney and Governor Perry, now probably the frontrunners

FINNEY: You know, Mitt Romney, I think, has really done a good job because you can tell that the way they're executing his campaign this time they learned the lessons from last time, and he is really running as a frontrunner. You see he's been very reluctant to get into the back and forth. He's really kept his eye on President Obama. My sense with Perry, though, is, you know, he and Bachmann are in some ways vying for the same set of voters.

YDSTIE: Matt, your thoughts on the strategies going forward?

CONTINENTTI: You know, the field isn't settled. There may still be a few more late entries coming into this field, whether it's Paul Ryan, the congressman from Wisconsin, whether it's Sarah Palin, who's making some signs that she may jump in at the last second.

So in that scenario, Romney has to stay relevant. Perry needs to show that these times where he kind of gets a little bit caught up in the moment are few and far in between and that he is appropriate to the office of President.

YDSTIE: Matt Continetti is the opinion editor of the Weekly Standard. Karen Finney is an MSNBC political analyst and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee. Thanks to both of you for coming in.


FINNEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.