From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Obama crosses 270: After moving the battlegrounds of Colorado and Virginia from Toss-up to Lean Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee now has crossed the 270 Electoral Vote threshold in NBC's electoral map. One week before the election, Obama leads McCain 286-163, up from his 264-163 advantage a week ago. As we pointed out on Friday, the significance of moving Colorado and Virginia into Obama's column is this: If Obama wins those two states, plus Nevada, he can still get to 270 -- even if he loses Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In addition to the Colorado and Virginia changes, we have moved McCain's home state of Arizona from Likely McCain to Lean McCain, a tip to the reality that Arizona, without McCain on the ticket, would have been a contested battleground. A new poll conducted by a Democratic group found McCain with just a four-point lead over Obama in the state, 48%-44%. This comes on the heels of private polls we have seen that show the presidential contest to be tight in Arizona. In addition, McCain's collapse in Hispanic support is contributing to this downturn here as well. Of course, it's worth pointing out that our map reflects how things stand right now. Yet, with eight days remaining, McCain is running out of time to change the dynamics of the race.
Video: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd offers his first read on a new set of polls from the battleground map and discusses the importance Colorado and Virginia have come to play as they shift from 'toss-up' to 'Obama'.
Likely Obama: CA, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA, NY, OR, RI, VT, WA (175 electoral votes)
Lean Obama: CO, IA, MI, MN, NH, NJ, NM, PA, VA, WI (111 votes)
Toss-up: FL, IN, MO, NV, NC, OH (89 votes)
Lean McCain: AZ, GA, MT, NE 02, ND, SD, WV (40 votes)
Likely McCain: AL, AK, AR, ID, KS, KY, LA, MS, NE (the rest of the state), OK, SC, TN, TX, UT, WY (123 votes)
*** Obama's closer: In a speech from Canton, OH that his campaign is billing as his closing argument, Obama today will contend that his candidacy represents a change from President Bush's economic policies and philosophy -- which he says McCain will follow. "When it comes to the economy, when it comes to the central issue of this election, the plain truth is that John McCain has stood with this President every step of the way," he will say, according to excerpts of the speech. What's more, Obama will call for changing the tone in Washington. (But haven't we heard this before? Both Bush 43 and Clinton 42 promised this.) "[T]he change we need isn't just about new programs and policies. It's about a new politics -- a politics that calls on our better angels instead of encouraging our worst instincts; one that reminds us of the obligations we have to ourselves and one another." What's interesting here is his avoidance of mentioning the potential for unchecked Dem political power in Congress. Also, he's trying to turn the "readiness" tables on McCain by painting him as "risky" because of his shared philosophy with Bush. By the way, as for the unchecked power, did Hillary Clinton and Al Franken accidentally do the GOP a favor with the TV ad she's running for him that touts 60 Senate seats and the potential for Franken to be No. 60?
*** McCain Meets the Press: As Obama today attempts to paint McCain as an extension of Bush's economic policies, the Arizona senator didn't help himself much on this front when he said this on NBC's Meet the Press: "So do [Bush and I] share a common philosophy of the Republican Party? Of course." McCain then added, "But I've, I've stood up against my party, not just President Bush, but others; and I've got the scars to prove it, including taking up, with Ted Kennedy, immigration reform, knowing full well that that was going to hurt my chances in the primaries. So I could go down a long list of issues with you." One of those issues that McCain didn't mention in the interview was his votes against the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts. In fact, those votes could have been McCain's rebuttal to Obama's charge that the Arizona senator is in lockstep with Bush on economic matters.
Ponder this what-if: What if McCain, after clinching the GOP nomination in March, had moved to the center on economic policy, saying that now -- with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a rising national debt -- wasn't the time to extend Bush's tax cuts for the well-off? Or what if he picked some other economic policy to distance himself from Bush? There will be a lot of Wednesday-morning quarterbacking next week, if he loses, about how McCain spent the first four months of his general election campaign.
*** Palin as Jason Bourne? The big political intrigue over the weekend was the Politico story noting that Palin had "gone rogue" -- ignoring the McCain campaign's advice, as well as seeming to break with McCain on a few issues (like raising Jeremiah Wright and the campaign's decision to give up on Michigan). And then a McCain adviser said this to CNN: "She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone. She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom." Wow. Of course, tension between the running mate -- who is looking out for his/her political future -- and the principal's campaign is nothing new. (See Edwards, John.) But what is new is how this has become public consumption before Election Day. (We didn't really know about the Kerry-Edwards tension until after the campaign?) No doubt Palin is looking out for her political future after this campaign. The question is whether this tension ends up damaging her for 2012…
*** Still talking about the clothes? Yesterday, the McCain-Palin campaign pushed back harder on the $150,000 shopping-spree story than it did when the news first broke. Also, Palin devoted the first couple minutes of her speech in Florida to the clothes story, mentioning (among other things) that she wears a $35 wedding ring. A few questions here: What took so long? Could it be the campaign couldn't get the full story out of the RNC until this weekend? How bad is the relationship between the RNC and the McCain campaign? By the way, there still isn't a good accounting for these purchases. Will a post-election audit of the RNC's finances turn up shenanigans? How this story is still going strong this weekend is just a PR debacle... By the way, as CNN reported, Palin mentioning her clothes yesterday wasn't in the prepared remarks the campaign had for her yesterday.
*** Poll Watch: One reason why observers were baffled by the McCain-Palin team's time-intensive visits to the Hawkeye State this weekend (including the ironically-named Waterloo, where Meet the Press met up with McCain yesterday) ... A new Mason-Dixon poll shows Obama up 11 points in the state (51%-40%). The numbers came out alongside new polls in Georgia, where McCain is holding on to a six-point lead (49%-43%) and Missouri, where he holds a single-point advantage (46%-45%) in a state that could keep us up late next Tuesday. Also, a new Washington Post poll shows Obama leading McCain by eight points in Virginia, 52%-44%.
*** Downballot watch: Just how bad is it going to be for House Republicans? The Los Angeles Times notes a bunch of House GOPers in the Golden State who were once untargeted are now nervous. And late last week, we noticed the NRCC sent out attack press releases in three races that just shocked us --WY At-Large, IL-6, and IN-3. Trust us, if you are worried about Dick Cheney's old House seat as well as one once held by Henry Hyde, things are not going well. The chatter about a 35-seat loss for the GOP doesn't appear to be "chicken little" type rhetoric anymore. As one top Dem strategist told First Read last week, this election cycle -- more so than in 2006 -- will see quite a few Democrats elected that the DCCC basically ignored.
*** Fun fact of the day: An unfamiliar sight will greet Texas voters this year. There's no Bush on the ballot. The last time there wasn't a Bush on the Texas ballot -- or in Texas office -- was 1976. And if you exclude '71 to '77, there has been a Bush on the Texas ballot or in office since '64. Why does this matter? The Republican win in Texas will be its smallest victory since 1988, and is one of the reasons why most folks do not believe McCain can win the popular vote because he won't rack up the margins in this big state like Republicans in the past have.
*** On the trail: McCain begins his day in Ohio, holding an economic meeting in Cleveland and then a rally in Dayton before attending another rally in Pottsville, PA. Obama gives his closing-argument speech in Canton, OH and later campaigns in Pittsburgh, PA. Biden stumps in North Carolina (Greenville and Greensboro) and then in Florida (Port Richey). And Palin spends her day in Virginia, hitting Leesburg, Fredericksburg, and Salem.
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 8 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 73 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 85 days
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