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First thoughts: Obama builds map lead

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama builds on map lead: Obama has expanded his lead over McCain in NBC's latest electoral map. Obama now has 217 electoral votes in his column versus 189 for McCain, building on his 210-189 edge from last month. There are 132 votes in the toss-up category. Here are the changes from last month, all of them moving in Obama's direction: 1) Iowa moves from toss-up to Lean Obama, continuing this trend of the Illinois senator over-performing in the "region" of Illinois; 2) New Jersey moves from Lean Obama to Likely Obama; and 3) Oregon moves from Lean Obama to Likely Obama. In another year, both of those states would not have moved so early, but it's pretty clear the GOP and McCain will not be seriously contesting either one.

Likely Obama: CA, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA, NJ, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA (190 electoral votes)
Lean Obama: IA, MN, WI (27 votes)
Toss-up: CO, FL, MI, MO, NV, NM, NH, OH, PA, VA (132 votes)
Lean McCain: AK, GA, IN, MT, NC, ND, SD (53 votes)
Likely McCain: AL, AZ, AR, ID, KS, KY, LA, MS, NE, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT, WV, WY (136 votes)

VIDEO: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd discusses the latest developments in Barack Obama's search for a running mate, NBC's projected electoral map and a celebrity response to John McCain.

*** Not all toss-ups are equal: If this were October 26 instead of August 6, we probably wouldn't have this many toss-ups states on our map. Florida, Missouri, and Nevada would move into the Lean McCain column, while Michigan, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania would move into Obama's. That would give Obama a 260-232 electoral lead over McCain, and it would leave us with four pure toss-ups: Colorado, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Virginia. And under that scenario, McCain would need to win ALL THREE of Colorado, Ohio, and Virginia to win or break a 269-269 tie, which would probably favor Obama.

*** Leaning towers of toss-ups: As for which of the "lean" states could end up in the toss-up category, keep an eye on Wisconsin, Indiana, and North Carolina. The RNC believes all is not lost yet in Wisconsin, and that at some point there will be some snapback and the state will get close again -- possibly after the GOP convention finishes up in neighboring Minnesota. As for the other two, ask yourself this question: If the Dem primary hadn't put Indiana and North Carolina on the map as primary states, would Obama be as competitive? This is a case where the drawn out primary might have helped Obama, even as their campaign still mutters about the lost time. Of the two, GOP strategists we've talked to believe North Carolina will move into the toss-up category before Indiana, but all that could change with a stroke of the VP pen.

*** A big veep day: With 19 days until the Dem convention and 26 days until the GOP one, today is a very big day for veep watchers. Obama stumps with Evan Bayh in Elkhart, IN; Michelle Obama attends a fundraiser with Tim Kaine in Norfolk, VA (after she visits with military families there); Tim Pawlenty already spoke at GOPAC's State and Local Summit in Arlington, VA and later addresses the National Press Club; and Kathleen Sebelius speaks at an Obama fundraiser in Leelanau County, MI. Whew. With the Obamas just days away from their last vacation before the election, one wonders if the most significant meeting between an Obama and a VP candidate is taking place in Virginia and not Indiana. Just suggestin'… As for Pawlenty, many in McCain Land continue to marvel at how good the Minnesota governor has become as a campaign surrogate. Both Romney and Pawlenty have really shown some campaign chops.

*** What was Bill thinking? While Bayh campaigns with Obama today, we found out yesterday that Hillary Clinton will stump for him in Nevada on Friday and in Florida in two weeks. Of course, this news comes after husband Bill gave Obama a very tepid endorsement on whether the Illinois senator is qualified to be president. "You could argue that no one's ever ready to be president," he told ABC. (Somehow, we don't remember him saying that about his wife during the Democratic primary season.) What was Bill Clinton thinking here? No doubt he's still bitter about his wife losing the Dem primary battle, but for someone with his political skills, he should have been able to hit a homerun with that question about Obama. As many a Clinton watcher knows, Bill's very aware of the implications of every sentence he utters. He can't use the "I was taken out of context" excuse on this one. A couple of thoughts here: One, Bill's answer won't help Hillary if Obama loses and the Clintons make another run at the White House in 2012, because the Clintons have to be seen as being fully aboard the Obama Train. And because of this, look for Hillary to be effusive in her praise of Obama in Nevada -- in fact, she may now feel she has to go over the top. Two, would Bill have said what he said if Hillary was actually being vetted for VP? The idea of Bill campaigning throughout the fall was already seen as something of a potential headache to some in Obama Land, merging the two operations seems to get even more complicated by the hour or by the Bill Clinton soundbite. In fact, can the Obama campaign trust having Bill on the stump for him at all in the fall?

*** Shiny metal object time: With so many problems at home and abroad (the poor economy, high gas prices, war in Iraq, escalating violence in Afghanistan), we're loathe to spend another day talking about Paris Hilton, but here we go. While her new Web video takes direct shots at McCain and his age, it seems to only help the Arizona senator. Why? Because it keeps the memory of McCain's initial shot at Obama alive. That's why the McCain campaign seems to be relishing the video release by Hilton more than Team Obama. By the way, speaking of shiny metal objects, it was interesting to see Obama dump the "coolness" or "aloofness' for a day in his pushback on the tire gauge gag. Obviously, the hits have gotten a bit under Obama's skin, but there are probably some Obama supporters who are glad to see he had some fight in him.

*** Downballot round up: It May Be August, but yesterday was a fairly significant day at the polls. In Georgia, the DSCC got the long-shot candidate it wanted in Jim Martin, who beat Vernon Jones in yesterday's Senate run-off for the right to face Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R)… In Missouri, Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R) beat Sarah Steelman in the GOP gubernatorial primary, and he will battle Jay Nixon (D) in the fall. This might be the single most competitive GOV race in the country and the fact that it's taking place in a key toss-up state only adds to its importance… And in Michigan, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D) -- whose son Kwame Kilpatrick has been plagued by scandal -- narrowly won her primary.

*** On the trail: McCain begins his day in Huntington, WV (where he stops by football practice at Marshall University) and later tours a company in Jackson, OH and hits a fundraiser in Dublin, OH. Obama holds a morning town hall in Elkhart, IN before departing for Minneapolis.

Countdown to Dem convention: 19 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 26 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 90 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 167 days
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