From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Sunshine on Obama's shoulders: If you want to know why Obama is doing his debate prep today in -- of all places -- Tampa, FL, look no further than the latest TODAY Show/NBC/Mason-Dixon poll, which has Obama up in the Sunshine State by two points, 47%-45%. Yet inside those numbers, Obama leads McCain in the Tampa Bay area (Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, and Polk counties) by a 49%-43% margin. Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker says the key to winning Florida statewide is usually through Tampa Bay, and Obama's six-point lead in the area explains why he's ahead in this poll. Moreover, outside of Nevada, there is probably not another state that has been hurt more by the housing and credit crunch, and that may be benefiting Obama right now. Also potentially troublesome for McCain in this must-win GOP state, he leads by just six among Hispanics (49%-43%), which in Florida is made up of a majority of Cubans. (If Obama does pick off younger Cubans, he may close the overall gap thanks to his large lead among non-Cuban Hispanics in the I-4 corridor.) Also, McCain's four-point lead among seniors (48%-44%) is not as big as he needs it to be to offset the electorate-changing demographics among blacks and young voters. So Obama's decision to prep for Friday's debate in Florida is turning into a smart play, huh? Any extra day in Florida might pay off…
*** Here's your Obama bounce: Florida isn't the only state looking good for Obama after the political winds shifted last week. In Virginia, he's up by three points among likely voters (49%-46%) and six points among registered ones (50%-44%), according to a new Washington Post/ABC survey. Also, a new round of Wall Street Journal/WashingtonPost.com/Quinnipiac polling shows Obama leading among likelies in Colorado (49%-45%), Michigan (48%-44%), Minnesota (47%-45%), and Wisconsin (49%-42%). The lone piece of good battleground news for McCain comes from New Hampshire, where the latest University of New Hampshire poll has the Arizona senator up by two points (47%-45%).
*** The growing South vs. the shrinking North: What's going on here? Why is Obama seeming to make gains in some of the big growth states (see FL, NC, and VA), but McCain is making progress -- or at least keeping it close -- in the shrinking population states (NH, WI, PA, and MI)? The growing states have electorates that tune in later and the swing voters in those states may also be more sensitive to the current economy issue. Take Florida, for instance: The state's economy was built not just on tourism but homebuilding. As for McCain's improvement in the North and Industrial Midwest? The Republican base was really underperforming in many of those shrinking population states. Also, Obama's ability to change the electorates in those states is much more limited than in places like Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.
*** I'm Joe Biden, and I don't approve that message: You knew this was coming, right? Biden told CBS that he didn't approve of the Obama ad that questioned McCain's computer literacy. "I thought that was terrible by the way… If I had anything to do with it, we would have never done it," he said. Republicans made quick political hay of Biden's remark -- one emailing First Read, "For the rest of the election, Republicans can say 'Even Joe Biden thinks Obama's attacks are "terrible" and embarrassing." Biden released a statement last night to clarify things. "I was asked about an ad I'd never seen, reacting merely to press reports… Having now reviewed the ad, it is even more clear to me that given the disgraceful tenor of Sen. McCain's ads and their persistent falsehoods, his campaign is in no position to criticize, especially when they continue to distort Barack's votes on an issue as personal as keeping kids safe from sexual predators." Biden's not being his best Biden.
*** Palin at the UN: Today and tomorrow at the United Nations, Palin gets her first true opportunity to bolster her foreign policy credentials when she meets with various world leaders, many of whom have ties to McCain or his campaign. Today, she meets with Afghanistan President Karzai, Colombia President Uribe, and Henry Kissinger. And tomorrow, McCain joins her in meetings with Georgia's Saakashvili and Ukraine's Yushchenko. In one way, Palin's two days of pressing the flesh with world leaders is analogous to Obama's trip to the Middle East and Europe. Then again, Obama -- by holding a press conference in Jordan and a bilateral newser with Sarkozy -- performed at a higher degree of difficulty than Palin, who won't be talking to the press. By the way, as NBC's John Yang reminds us, Palin won't be the only elected US executive sitting down with world leaders today. President Bush meets with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and later delivers his final address to the United Nations General Assembly. The speech, which times out at about 30 minutes, will include language about the global impact of his administration's actions to stabilize the US financial system. But the bulk of it will be a discussion of what the UN can do to better combat terrorism and spread freedom.
*** A pivotal day: Today may be a pivotal day for Hank Paulson's bailout plan as he testifies in front of the Senate Banking Committee. Quite a few lawmakers -- from the left and right -- are questioning the size and scope of the bailout and the transfer of financial power to one person. We were surprised by the type of lawmakers who we saw releases from yesterday questioning the bailout. They weren't from wingers on either side. This is such a tricky game for both parties on the Hill. Neither side wants to be seen as handing over a blank check to Wall Street, and neither wants to be seen as the party who hurt the financial markets longer than necessary.
*** Those pigs didn't oink: Notice how the McCain campaign tried to change the subject yesterday? It cut its first Tony Rezko ad, which tied Obama to the "corrupt Chicago machine"; it angrily denounced the New York Times on a conference call with reporters; and it brought up Obama's tenuous ties to '60s radical William Ayers on that same conference call. But unlike two weeks ago, when the McCain camp's "lipstick on a pig" and "sex-ed for kindergartners" TV ad dominated the political discussion, those weapons of mass distraction got very little attention yesterday. The economy and the current Wall Street crisis have become THE story, and nothing right now is going to stop that. All the cable outlets will be covering the Paulson/Bernanke hearings as big news today -- making subject-changing efforts much more difficult.
*** Voting is underway: For most, Election Day is November 4, but voting is already underway in 11 states. Voters in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Georgia, Missouri, and South Dakota already have the chance to cast ballots. In fact, in Kentucky -- which started voting on Thursday -- the first ballot in the state was cast for McCain (and the second went for Obama). The first absentee ballots went out Aug. 26th, more than two months before Election Day. By the end of this week, voters in 15 states will have the opportunity to cast their ballots. And by October 5, a month before Election Day, some form of early voting will happen in 23 states.
*** On the trail: McCain, in Ohio, makes a statement in Strongsville and tours a factory in Middleburg before heading to Freeland, MI for yet another factory tour. Obama will be doing debate prep in Tampa, FL. Biden, in DC, addresses the National Jewish Democratic Council. And Palin is at the United Nations, meeting with Afghanistan President Karzai, Colombia President Uribe, and Henry Kissinger.
Countdown to the first presidential debate: 3 days
Countdown to the vice presidential debate: 11 days
Countdown to the second presidential debate 14 days
Countdown to the third presidential debate: 22 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 42 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 119 days
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