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First thoughts: Off the trail

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Obama off the trail: NBC/NJ's Athena Jones reported last night that Obama was canceling his scheduled trips to Iowa and Wisconsin on Thursday and Friday, so he could travel to Hawaii to visit his seriously ill grandmother; he will return to the campaign trail on Saturday. With exactly two weeks until Election Day, the timing of Obama's absence isn't ideal, although the image of a doting grandson with his grandmother isn't exactly harmful, either. As for the states he'll be skipping, we're not sure that it will hurt him politically. Obama's prospects in Iowa (a state he's visited so many times) and Wisconsin (where he's up 12 points, per our recent NBC/Mason-Dixon poll) are looking pretty good. Also, his campaign can probably round an impressive surrogate -- Hillary? Bill? Al Gore? Biden? -- to fill in for him.

Video: NBC News political director Chuck Todd talks with Morning Joe about which states are favoring Obama and why Ohio won't save McCain in the election.

*** Not giving up: The RNC is pushing back on a CNN report from yesterday that had a McCain insider saying that the campaign's prospects in Colorado, Iowa, and New Mexico looked bleak. "'Gone,' was the word one top McCain insider used to describe those three states." Here's the significance of the story: If Obama wins those three states -- and holds onto the states Kerry won in 2004 -- Obama will become the next president, no matter what happens in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, etc. An RNC official emails First Read that the McCain is NOT giving up on those three states. (And, as we explained above, they really can't give up there, no matter what the polls say.) The RNC official on Colorado: "Colorado is one of just a few states the RNC IE is reportedly buying. While we have NO impact or influence on the RNC IE, it would suggest that their polling matches ours and shows the state within striking distance." On New Mexico: "The combined spending of the campaign and the reported spending of the RNC IE shows us outspending Obama by about $100K per week. In addition, the numbers -- public and private -- in the SW have swung wildly. We believe the possibility of NV or NM breaking at the last minute is likely and we have our dominos lined up to knock down the win at the last minute." And on Iowa: "Our numbers have consistently been in the mix and our spending is very competitive -- always has been. In fact, Obama has feathered back his spending." 

*** Say it ain't so, Joe: Yesterday, McCain and the GOP jumped all over Biden's remarks at a weekend fundraiser suggesting that a President Obama would face an international crisis in his first year as president. "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." The McCain camp has seized on the comment 1) because it allows them to talk about national security, something that hasn't been a big topic of conversation lately; and 2) because if they had said it they would be accused of fear-mongering. Interestingly, recent history suggests Biden is right: The last two new presidents were tested by a crisis in his first year? (For Clinton, it was Somalia and first World Trade Center attack; for Bush, it was 9/11.) By the way, could this have been Biden's way of inartfully -- but delicately -- highlighting Palin's own resume?

*** Just askin': Did the release of Biden's medical records yesterday have anything to do with the campaign's hope there would be a re-focus on all of the candidate's health? Seemed like an odd decision at the time and then, voila, a spate of questions about the health of all four candidates.

*** A million-dollar mistake: After GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann suggested on Friday's Hardball that Obama and perhaps other Democrats of being anti-America, Bachmann's Dem opponent in Minnesota has raised $810,000 (as of early last night), and the Cook Political Report moved the race from Likely Republican to Toss-Up. "It's definitely a million dollar mistake," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Crider tells First Read. But writing in Politico, Bachmann denies calling liberals anti-American. "Despite the way the blogs and the Democratic Party are spinning it, I never called all liberals anti-American, I never questioned Barack Obama's patriotism, and I never asked for some House Un-American Activities Committee witch hunt into my colleagues in Congress. What I did was ask legitimate questions that Minnesotans have been asking me: What does Barack Obama mean by change?"

*** Fun fact of the day: There are two competitive battleground states that haven't voted for a Democratic president since 1964: Indiana and Virginia. They join rock-solid red states like Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. However, South Dakota and Nebraska's CD2 are within the realm for Obama if he continues on this current trajectory.

*** On the trail: McCain stumps in Pennsylvania, hitting Bensalem, Harrisburg, and Moon Township. Obama remains in Florida for a second day, holding rallies in Palm Beach and Miami (where he will be joined by his wife). Biden campaigns in Colorado. And Palin is in Nevada, stopping in Reno and Henderson.
 
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 14 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 79 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 91 days
 
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