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5 Political Stories to Watch in the Week Ahead

Washington (CNN) -- Mitt Romney, a couple men who might have hopes of being the next Republican presidential nominee, and a first-term congressman from Arkansas also will be political stories in the week ahead.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Advocacy about Obamacare is planned by liberals and conservatives
  • President Obama heads West to talk about the housing in Phoenix
  • Mitt Romney returns to the political stage with a fundraiser in New Hampshire
  • Former Sen. Rick Santorum and Sen. Ted Cruz address a conservative gathering in Iowa

Washington (CNN) -- It's August, the dog days of summer, and President Barack Obama and Congress are making a break from the nation's capital. The president heads West for a quick trip on the economy that includes a visit with Jay Leno, while federal lawmakers begin their five-week summer recess.

Mitt Romney, a couple men who might have hopes of being the next Republican presidential nominee, and a first-term congressman from Arkansas also will be political stories in the week ahead.

1. Taking it to the states

While lawmakers may have left Washington for the sticky month of August, their political battles aren't taking a rest. The sniping over Obamacare, immigration and the budget is only set to amplify as outside groups hit states to rally supporters behind their causes.

Like August 2009, when rowdy town halls across the country helped fuel the burgeoning tea party movement, health care will provide conservative activists with a rallying cry for smaller government and less federal spending -- though this time around, Obamacare supporters are also getting into the town hall business.

Obamacare battle heads to states

Congress prepares for recess
Is Congress getting anything done?
Sen. Cruz focused on defunding Obamacare

Organizing for Action, the advocacy group formed from the remnants of Obama's presidential campaign, will get started Sunday with community events and house parties pegged to the president's 52nd birthday. The Obamacare rallies, part of the group's "Action August" initiative, are designed to counter conservatives who are also darting across the country to push against the president's sweeping health care law.

While the 2009 rallies loudly pushed elected officials to reject the president's plans, conservative events this year will advocate defunding the law, which was enacted in 2010 and deemed constitutional last summer by the Supreme Court.

Some conservative lawmakers -- including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rep. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah -- are using impending budget battles as leverage, vowing to oppose any measure that provides funding for the federal government that includes funding for the health care law. The measure funding the government expires September 30, setting up another Capitol Hill budget battle between Republicans and the White House.

Other Republicans, however, have voiced opposition to threatening a government shutdown in order to gut the health care law.

Boehner's juggling act: Killing Obamacare and avoiding shutdown

Other groups hitting the road: the anti-Obamacare Tea Party Patriots, ForAmerica and Americans for Prosperity; and the pro-Obamacare Americans United for Change and Protect your Care.

2. Obama heads West

With economic speeches in Illinois, Missouri, Florida and Tennessee under his belt, Obama heads west Tuesday to Arizona, this time to talk housing in a market that's seeing recovery after home prices plummeted.

Phoenix was one of the worst hit areas during the housing crisis, seeing home prices drop more than 50% between 2006 and 2011. But things are looking up -- a closely watched index out this week showed home prices there were up more than 20% from a year ago.

CNNMoney.com: Home prices keep soaring

But homeownership around the nation is still at record lows, and according to a report this week from a federal watchdog, borrowers who received help through the government's main foreclosure prevention program are re-defaulting on their mortgages at alarming rates.

"In Arizona, the president will lay out his plan to continue to help responsible homeowners and those Americans who seek to own their own homes as another cornerstone of how we can strengthen the middle class in America," White House press secretary Jay Carney said this week.

The speech is a continuation of the president's push to turn back to the economy and jobs, which Americans still rate as their top issues in public polling. Republicans have largely been skeptical of the new effort, casting it as yet another "pivot" that hasn't resulted in any new proposals.

While out West, the president will also drop in on Jay Leno, taping an appearance on "The Tonight Show" on Tuesday. He'll also visit servicemen and women at southern California's Camp Pendleton.

3. He's back!

Mitt Romney is attending his first political fundraiser since he lost last November's presidential election.

The former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP nominee will be the headliner at a New Hampshire Republican Party reception and fundraiser. The event will take place on Tuesday in the Granite State's lakes region, near Romney's vacation home in Wolfeboro, along Lake Winnipesaukee.

The New Hampshire Republican Party told CNN that general admission tickets for the event are sold out.

"The dinner will give Romney's many local supporters in New Hampshire a chance to see him again," Ryan Williams, an adviser to the New Hampshire GOP who worked on the Romney campaign, told CNN.

Was Mitt Romney right about Detroit and Russia?

Following November's election loss, Romney spent much of his time out of the public eye, but he recently re-entered the spotlight, holding a multiday conference in Park City, Utah, that featured several prospective 2016 presidential candidates and other national leaders, as well as some of the GOP's major donors.

4. Is the next race already under way?

Two men who might aspire to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 head to -- you guessed it -- Iowa at the end of the week.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who battled Romney deep into last year's GOP primaries, and freshman Sen. Ted Cruz will have prominent speaking roles at the 2013 Family Leadership Summit.

The event's being put on by the Family Leader, a group that's influential with social conservatives in Iowa. Social conservative voters are a key constituency among Hawkeye State Republicans, and Iowa's caucuses lead off the presidential primary and caucus calendar.

Santorum is well known and respected among social conservatives. Cruz, who was elected to the Senate last year thanks to strong support from tea party and other grassroots conservatives, is fast becoming a rising star on the right.

Also speaking at the gathering: Donald Trump, who once again might be flirting with running for president.

5. Game on in crucial Senate battle

Get ready for what could be another crucial and bruising 2014 Senate battle, this time in Arkansas, which could ultimately decide whether the Democrats keep control of the chamber.

Republican Rep. Tom Cotton is expected to announce Tuesday that he's running against incumbent two-term U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, who is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election next year.

Cotton, who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is considered a rising star in the GOP and is a favorite of many neoconservatives. The representative, who was just elected to Congress this past November, has been a frequent guest on cable news channels, including CNN.

Next year the Democrats will try to maintain their majority in the Senate, where they hold a 54-46 edge (including two independents who caucus with the party) over the GOP. They hope to expand that to 55-45 following October's special Senate election in New Jersey, which they are favored to win.

But they most likely will be defending 21 of 35 seats up for grabs in November 2014.

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