From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** The status quo: At the beginning of the month, at the 34-day mark before the election, we noted how much had changed in the preceding 34 days: Obama had accepted the Dem nomination, McCain picked Palin, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike crashed into the Gulf Coast, Lehman Brothers went under and Merrill Lynch was bought out, the Bush Administration asked for its $700 billion bailout package, and McCain and Obama participated in their first debate. "If the next 34 is like the last 34, we're in for quite a ride," GOP pollster Neil Newhouse told First Read at the time. But in the past two weeks since then, what has been remarkable is how little has actually changed. Despite the Dow's ups and downs, the Biden-Palin debate, and the second McCain-Obama one, the race has continued on its current course where Obama has built his leads in national and state polls.
Video: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd offers his first read on a new set of polls in battleground states, news that the Republican Party is borrowing money in an effort to save Senate seats, and McCain's unveiling of his new economic plan.
In fact, a new round of Quinnipiac polls finds that Obama is now up by nine points in Colorado after the second debate (52%-43%), ahead 16 points in Michigan (54%-38%), up 11 in Minnesota (51%-40%), and ahead 17 points in Wisconsin (54%-37%). (Caveat: These polls seem a bit inflated compared with what the campaigns are showing internally.) Of course, with exactly three weeks go to, things in this race can certainly turn in a blink of eye. But it's got to be pretty frustrating for the McCain camp to count on outside events to change things again.
*** Throwing stuff at the wall to see what will stick: But what has changed in the past couple of weeks has been the McCain campaign's tactics -- yet to little avail thus far. Late last month, McCain said he was skipping the first debate unless Congress passed the bailout package, but still traveled to Mississippi anyway, even though the package didn't pass until days later (a package that has to have left some members of Congress wondering why there was a rush -- particularly since the plan keeps changing). The campaign whipped out the Ayers card, then pulled it back. At the second debate, McCain unveiled a new home-mortgage plan, which got panned by liberals and conservatives alike. And most recently, advisers signaled that McCain was to give a speech yesterday announcing new economic proposals, but that was scrapped for a new stump speech in which McCain cast himself as the underdog and a fighter. Got all of that? Well, the campaign now says that McCain today will unveil a new set of economic proposals aimed at seniors -- which is a key voting bloc in the states he has to hold (FL, IN, OH) and wants to pick off (PA and WI). It is this group, older white voters, that has moved most recently into Obama's corner and given the Democrat his big lead. This could be the final swing vote to focus on as we try and figure out exactly the contours of this race. White seniors are the landslide maker for Obama. If he doesn't do well with them, it's what keeps McCain in the game.
*** McCain's Hispanic deficit: As mentioned above, Obama is now leading in Colorado by nine points, according to that new Quinnipiac poll. What's worth remembering about the state: Hispanics there make up about 20% of the population and 12% of eligible voters. And per nearly every national poll we've seen so far, Obama leads McCain among Hispanics by a 2-to-1 margin. As everyone in the media does the race story -- is there a Bradley Effect? Etc. -- let's not forget the problems that the Arizona senator is having with Hispanics, despite the fact that he supported an immigration reform proposal that was popular with Latinos. McCain, of course, is being punished for his party label, not his position. And that punishment is leading to the Republican trailing in all three Western battlegrounds, putting that much more pressure on him to hold everything else. McCain's Hispanic deficit is yet another reason why the McCain path to 270 is so narrow.
*** Going nuts over ACORN, part II: The GOP's relentless campaign against ACORN appears to be paying off in press coverage. Here's the Washington Post: "Republican officials and advisers to Sen. John McCain have sought to paint the group -- which focuses on low-income housing, voter registration, the minimum wage and other issues -- as radical and have accused it of playing a role in the economic crisis and fomenting voter fraud. At the same time, the McCain campaign has sought to tie the group closely to Sen. Barack Obama… ACORN fired back yesterday at the McCain campaign, releasing a 2006 photo of the Arizona senator delivering the keynote speech at a pro-immigration rally in Miami that the group sponsored." Meanwhile, former GOP Sens. John Danforth and Warren Rudman speak at the National Press Club on ACORN and voter-registration fraud, while ACORN holds its own press conference at the Press Club before the event. Remember folks, the accusation against ACORN by the right is "voter fraud," but the more accurate accusation may be voter-registration fraud -- for which there appears to be plenty of checks in place to guarantee it doesn't turn into some actual voter fraud.
*** Senate watch: Today, we unveil our own Senate ratings. But they're not really ratings, but rather groupings. In the Likely Dem category, we have Virginia and New Mexico. In the Competitive Leaning Dem category, we have Colorado, New Hampshire, Alaska, North Carolina, and Oregon. In the First Landslide Wave Watch, we have Minnesota and Mississippi. And in the Second Landslide Wave Watch, we have Georgia, Kentucky, and Maine (barely). The GOP's only pick-up opportunity: Louisiana.
*** Trying to prevent a filibuster-proof majority: Speaking of the Senate… Politico reported last night -- and First Read confirmed the story -- that the Republican National Committee is pondering taking out a $5 million loan to spend on embattled Senate GOP incumbents to prevent the possibility of the Dems picking up a filibuster-proof majority. A senior GOP official tells First Read: "The RNC is going all in for McCain. The Committee had a record fundraising month in September -- raising over $66 million -- and is expected to have another record month in October. To help win in November, Republican officials are considering going an extra step and taking out a loan to help Senate candidates in some of the same states that will decide the Presidential election." Clearly, the RNC does not want the message coming out of this loan story that somehow the party is starting to write off McCain and instead wants to lay the groundwork for a comeback in 2010 or 2012.
*** You can't make this stuff up: The Democrat who succeeded GOP Rep. Mark Foley in 2006 -- Tim Mahoney -- is now embroiled in his own sex scandal.
Mahoney's chances of holding onto this GOP-leaning congressional seat were actually looking up. Not anymore. By the way, the new favorite for the seat is Tom Rooney, who's related to the Rooney family that owns the Steelers.
*** On the trail: McCain and Palin are both in Pennsylvania. McCain campaigns in Blue Bell, while Palin stumps in Scranton (two days after Biden was there). The duo then raises money in New York City. Obama is down in Ohio for his debate prep. But Biden makes three stops in Ohio, visiting Warren, Clairsville, and Marietta.
Countdown to the third presidential debate: 1 day
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 21 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 98 days
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