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First thoughts: Good news, great news

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Good news for Obama, great news for McCain: The latest NBC/WSJ poll, which shows Obama hanging on to one-point lead over McCain (47%-46%), actually contains some very good news for the Dem nominee. In it, Obama's positive rating is at 53%, his highest number on this question; more voters than ever before believe he shares their background and values; and fewer voters than ever think he would be a risky choice for the presidency. "This is a person who is doing exactly what he needs to do to put himself in a position to win this election," says co-pollster Peter Hart (D). The problem for Obama is that so is McCain -- primarily with his pick of Palin. In just one month, GOP excitement for McCain's candidacy has nearly tripled to 34% (although that still trails the 55% Obama gets), and the number who thinks he would be an agent of change has increased from 21% to 35% (yet that's dwarfed by Obama's 52%). "The Palin factor is remarkable," adds co-pollster Neil Newhouse (R). "She has clearly added an excitement factor. There is no question about that." This is also worth pointing out from the poll: Obama and McCain have much higher favorability ratings at this time than Bush or Kerry did in 2004. The public seems satisfied with their choices and are comfortable with either as president. So, of course, it makes sense for both campaigns to get down and dirty, right? (See below.)

VIDEO: NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd discusses the new NBC/WSJ poll.

*** Obama's Palin problem: Yet perhaps the most important thing Palin has done for McCain is help him attract women. In last month's NBC/WSJ poll, Obama was leading McCain by 14 points among female voters; now that lead is just four points. Moreover, Obama was up by 20 points in August among women ages 18-49; now McCain is ahead by three points. And last month, Obama held a one-point lead among white women; now McCain is up among them by 10 points. Yet according to Hart, what goes up sometimes must come down. Indeed, he points out that Walter Mondale received his best poll numbers in the 1984 presidential election after picking Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. But that bump proved to be fleeting. "The faster they rise, the steeper the descent," he says. Palin is a bubble, a la a housing bubble or a stock bubble. It's going to burst; the question is when. And the McCain campaign needs to keep this going for as long as possible.

*** McCain's Bush problem: While this poll is certainly great news for McCain, he still has this Achilles Heel: his association with President Bush. According to the poll, 74% believe McCain would closely follow Bush's programs and policies. That's virtually unchanged from August, when 77% said that of the GOP nominee. What's more, while McCain's change number has improved, he and Palin have decided to wage a battle on the change terrain, where Obama holds almost a 20-point lead over McCain (52%-35%). By the way, the NBC/WSJ poll was conducted of 860 registered voters from Sept. 6-8, and it has a margin of error of 3.3%. And the poll included some cellphone surveys (we found no significant difference in cell phone respondents as we have from landline respondents). 

*** A different kind of political pork: Anyone else thinking that the McCain campaign -- who earlier this summer accused Obama of playing the race card -- is laughing at how easily they were able to bait some in the media to bite on this faux "lipstick on a pig" controversy? It's amazing the McCain campaign's ability right now to drive the talking point of the day (especially with Drudge and the tabloids), allowing them to win news cycle after news cycle. Any day the campaign is not about Bush, not about the economy, not about the fundamentals of this environment that make this an election favoring the Democrats is a good day for the McCain campaign. We'll see how easily the media takes the bait today on this McCain Web ad, which clearly distorts Obama's line from yesterday. Conservative bloggers will pretend to be outraged and help drive this storyline today. Obama senior adviser Anita Dunn responded to the faux controversy with this statement: "Enough is enough. The Mc Cain campaign's attack … is a pathetic attempt to play the gender card about the use of a common analogy - the same analogy that Senator McCain himself used about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care plan just last year. This phony lecture on gender sensitivity is the height of cynicism and lays bare the increasingly dishonorable campaign John McCain has chosen to run." Will Dunn's statement have the same effect that the McCain campaign's "enough" statement had on Team Obama regarding race?

VIDEO: The McCain campaign is asking for an apology after Obama compared McCan's call for change to putting "lipstick on a pig." NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

*** On the trail: McCain and Palin hold a rally in Fairfax, VA before Palin heads back to Alaska, where she attends a "Welcome Home Rally" at 11:00 pm ET. Obama has an event in Norfolk, VA, flies to New York to tape Letterman, and then attends a Hispanic Congressional Caucus dinner in DC. And Biden raises money in Boston, campaigns in New Hampshire, and then hits another fundraiser in Holyoke, MA.

Countdown to the first presidential debate: 16 days
Countdown to the vice presidential debate: 22 days
Countdown to the second presidential debate 27 days
Countdown to the third presidential debate: 35 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 55 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 132 days
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