From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Two weeks out: There are no significant changes to this week's NBC electoral map. Obama continues to hold a 264-163 lead over McCain, which is unchanged from last week. The slight changes: We moved Georgia, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District from Likely McCain to Lean McCain. Also, we almost moved McCain's home state of Arizona to the Lean column; the state would have been a battleground had McCain not been on the ticket. And keep an eye on South Carolina -- yes, South Carolina. The historic African-American turnout appears to be happening and could make it a single-digit race there. In sum, the political winds are still at Obama's back. As for the Toss-up states and any that are teetering toward Obama: Colorado, Florida, and Virginia all seem to tilting the Democrat's way, but we haven't moved them yet because all three states have histories of Republican candidates over-performing polls. Unlike other maps, ours is not poll-driven. Polls are only a part of how we make our decisions on our map.
Likely Obama: CA, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA (175 electoral votes)
Lean Obama: IA, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NM, PA, WI (89 votes)
Toss-up: CO, FL, IN, MO, NV, NC, OH, VA (111 votes)
Lean McCain: GA, MT, NE 02, ND, SD, WV (30 votes)
Likely McCain: AL, AK, AZ, AR, ID, KS, KY, LA, MS, NE (the rest of the state), OK, SC, TN, TX, UT, WY (133 votes)
*** More on the battleground: Over the weekend, new NBC/Mason-Dixon polls showed Obama leading in Wisconsin (51%-39%), McCain ahead in West Virginia (47%-41%), and the two essentially tied in Ohio (McCain 46%, Obama 45%). That Obama Wisconsin lead is bigger than McCain's West Virginia edge is striking. Think about it: Who would have guessed that at this point in time in the campaign, Obama would have a better shot at winning West Virginia than McCain does in Wisconsin. … Meanwhile, here are the candidates' schedules for the next few days: McCain is in Missouri today and Pennsylvania tomorrow; Obama is in Florida today and tomorrow, and in Virginia on Wednesday; Biden hops on a bus tour through Colorado on Tuesday and Wednesday; and Palin campaigns in Colorado today and Nevada tomorrow.
*** Colin's blow: Not only did Colin Powell endorse Obama yesterday on Meet the Press; he also fired the first big shot in the post-election fight for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. "I have some concerns about the direction that the party has taken in recent years," he said. "It has moved more to the right than I would like to see it, but that's a choice the party makes." Win or lose in November, the GOP is going to go through an identity crisis. And especially if McCain loses, it's going to be one ugly period in the history of the Republican Party. It took the GOP some 16 years to truly find its soul post-Goldwater, the last Arizona senator to lead the Republican ticket. By the way, Powell's rejection of Palin -- "I don't believe she's ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of the vice president" -- will probably lead to more anti-Palin commentary from the right. And a third debate Powell started (which has been incredibly underreported) was his defense of being Muslim in America. He did something that Obama has hesitated to do when attacked for being a Muslim: defended the religion. As for the impact of Powell on voters, it's probably tough to measure. Voters usually don't believe they are ever moved by endorsements but it can reassure soft supporters. Moreover, it's the impact Powell will have on the news cycle with the opinion intelligentsia that should benefit Obama the most over the next few days.
*** So who's the uniter and who's the divider? Also, in the stakeout after his MTP appearance, Powell took this shot against GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, who on Friday on MSNBC's Hardball accused Obama and Democrats of being anti-America: "And this business of, for example, a congressman from Minnesota, who's going around saying, 'Let's examine all congressmen to see who is pro-America or not pro-America.' We have got to stop this kind of nonsense." Here you have John McCain arguing he can reach across party lines. But Michele Bachmann embraces him while Colin Powell rejects him. It's a horrible coincidence of symbolism for McCain right now. Speaking of Bachmann, it seems Powell wasn't the only Republican taking a shot at her; so did Sarah Palin, who rejected the premise. By the way, Bachmann's Dem foe in Minnesota raised nearly $500,000 off her appearance on Hardball Friday.
*** Big money, big money, no whammies: Here's another question: Can our campaign finance laws keep up with how Obama's rewriting the fundraising rule book, after we learned yesterday that he raised $150 million in September (which comes out to $5 million per day!!!!)? Just askin': What would the press coverage have been of George W. Bush had he decided to go outside the system for the general election in 2004? In fact, would a President Barack Obama -- should he decide to seek re-election in 2012 -- get away with raising private money for the general or will he have to limit donations to, say, $200 per person to avoid even any appearances of issues? The current campaign finance system is broken. By the way, the irony of Obama's fundraising success is that it is all thanks to McCain. Had the Republican not pushed to get soft money banned, the Democratic Party would not have gone into soft money detox and forced itself to actually figure out how to build a small-donor network.
*** Obama as Karl Marx? Has the McCain campaign made a fundamental mistake in attack politics -- don't charge your opponent with something that doesn't seem to pass the smell test beyond your base? This "socialist" charge is going to be hard for many middle-of-the-road voters to believe, particularly after Powell endorsed his candidacy. Saying Obama's a "liberal," well there are facts to back that up. But the socialist charge feels like an over-reach, and it may be falling on deaf ears. Of course, with the government getting so involved with our financial markets right now and McCain wanting to use federal money to buy up bad mortgages, it's hard for McCain to back up his socialist charge since he wants a similar amount of government intervention. This has been a problem with many of McCain's attacks on Obama -- they over-reach. The "terrorist" stuff was not believable to a majority of voters; "questionable judgment" would have been an easier sell. Pushing negatives is a subtle business. Sledgehammers rarely work on the presidential level; it's something to be saved for down-ballot races.
*** Prepping for E-Day: Between now and Election Day, we'll be offering a factoid or two that will make your cocktail party life a lot easier. Today's: If Elizabeth Dole loses, it will be the first time since 1952 that a Bush or a Dole is not holding major elective office, either as a governor, senator, congressman, or president. (Prescott Bush was elected to the US Senate in '52).
*** Early voting update: Over the weekend two states -- Texas and Nevada -- started voting without excuse. And today, voters in seven more states -- including battlegrounds Colorado (where Palin is today) and Florida (where Obama and Hillary Clinton are together) -- can go to the polls. Also, Nevada political guru Jon Ralston noted that the early-voting returns in his state seem to be in Dems' favor. "Of the 25,000-plus who voted early, 15,644 were Democrats and 5,721 were Republicans, according to Clark County Election Department records. If that trends holds, this won't be a wave; it'll be a tsunami. Republicans had a lead on the first day of mail ballot tallying -- 5,407 to 4,947. So overall, it's 20,591 to 11,128."
*** Biden sounding like a Republican -- or Hillary during the primary season? Did anyone catch what Joe Biden said at a fundraiser last night in the Pacific Northwest? It sounded awfully like warnings the GOP ticket likes to issue. "Mark my words. Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy," Biden said. "The world is looking. We're about to elect a brilliant 47-year old senator president of the United States of America. Remember I said it standing here if you don't remember anything else I said. Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. And he's gonna have to make some really tough - I don't know what the decision's gonna be, but I promise you it will occur. As a student of history and having served with seven presidents, I guarantee you it's gonna happen. I can give you at least four or five scenarios from where it might originate. And he's gonna need help."
*** Unleashed: NBC/NJ's Matthew E. Berger asks: Has the McCain campaign changed courses on keeping Gov. Palin tight lipped? Or is the governor now calling the shots? Beyond her appearance on Saturday Night Live, Palin is being let out of her shell more and more, and seems to be welcoming the opportunity. Last night, she walked right up to cameras on a flatbed truck upon landing in Colorado Springs, and kept taking questions from reporters -- even after aides repeatedly tried to end it. And she's been doing a lot more satellite interviews with local affiliates as well. With two sessions for traveling reporters Sunday, she has suddenly become the most loquacious of the four major candidates. By comparison, NBC/NJ's Athena Jones notes that Obama's last avail was in Toledo on October 14 with the pool; he took five questions. The last "real" avail was the Thursday before the first debate, on September 25.
*** On the trail: McCain campaigns in Missouri, making stops in St. Charles, Columbia, and Belton. Obama is in Florida, holding rallies in Tampa and (along with Hillary Clinton) Orlando. Biden is down, but Palin stumps in Colorado, hitting Colorado Springs, Loveland, and Grand Junction. Cindy McCain, in Pennsylvania, holds a rally in Philadelphia with Rudy Giuliani and another one in Yardley with Giuliani and Arlen Specter. And Bill Clinton is in Nevada, campaigning for Obama in Elko and Reno.
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 15 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 80 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 92 days
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