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First thoughts: In with the new...

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** In with the new… : A brand-new NBC/WSJ/MySpace poll illustrates not only McCain's challenge come Election Day, but also the challenge the Republican Party could face in future elections. In the poll, Obama enjoys a more than 2-to-1 advantage over McCain among first-time (read: 18-21 year olds) and lapsed voters, 69%-27%. These voters have a much more positive view of Obama (64%-27% fav/unfav rating) than average voters do (56%-33% fav/unfav in last week's NBC/WSJ survey). What's more, they have a much more negative view of McCain (29%-59%) and Palin (23%-54%) than average voters do. All of this suggests that a big turnout among these new and lapsed voters would benefit Obama on Election Day. The only question is: Will they turn out? In the poll, 66% say they are certain to vote -- but that's far less than the 90% of all voters who said that in last week's NBC/WSJ poll. Dem pollster Peter Hart compares this (potential) Obama advantage among young voters with the evangelical advantage Bush built in '04. Yet unlike Bush, Obama can count on this advantage in every state, not just in the handful of areas where evangelicals are concentrated. What does this mean? The young vote/new voter demographic could provide Obama a 3-5 point buffer with the rest of the electorate.

VIDEO: NBC's Political Director Chuck Todd offers his first read on the up and down sides of tonight's Obama infomercial and the Democrats' attack ad against Sarah Palin.

*** … And out with the old? A very ominous sign for the Republican Party is how Democratic-leaning these new and lapsed voters are. Not only do they back Obama by a 69%-27 margin, they also prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by a 2-to-1 margin, 66%-31%. And their views of President Bush? His fav/unfav among these voters is 14%-73%. Ouch. While Karl Rove had ambitious hopes of turning Bush's presidency into a permanent majority for the GOP, this poll suggests that Bush's lasting legacy could actually be turning off a new generation of voters. After all, consider what young voters who came of voting age during the past seven years might associate the GOP with -- the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina, the current economy, various political scandals (Jack Abramoff, Ted Stevens, etc.), and Bush. Speaking of the president, the White House released his schedule from today until Sunday, and get this -- the sitting president of the United States will not be campaigning in the final week of the campaign. Amazing. In fact, as NBC's John Yang notes, Bush hasn't made a single public campaign appearance with a GOP candidate this cycle. He has raised money for them, some $150 million this cycle. But that's down from the $186 million he helped raise for the GOP in the 2006 cycle.

*** Obama's big day: While both presidential candidates have busy schedules, check out Obama's day. He holds a rally in North Carolina; stumps with Biden in Sunrise, FL; tapes an interview with Jon Stewart that will appear tonight; tapes an interview with ABC's Charlie Gibson that will run tomorrow; and then appears at an 11:00 pm ET rally in Orlando, FL with Bill Clinton. (Call it the "Barack and Bill Show." It's the first time these two have campaigned together, and on any other day this would be today's cable chatterer of the day.) Oh, and then there's that 30-minute TV ad buy the campaign will air tonight at 8:00 pm ET on NBC, CBS, FOX, MSNBC, Univision, BET, and TV One. The New York Times got a sneak peak of the buy, and the paper says that part of the time, Obama is speaking to the camera; at other times, the advertisement highlights everyday voters and their troubles. No one believes this 30-minute special is an automatic homerun. There's some risk here if it looks presumptuous or too much. Then again, when is the last time that Obama has flubbed a big speech?

*** "Not ready --yet": Meanwhile, the McCain campaign has a 30-second ad it'll broadcast nationally to respond to Obama's infomercial. One word in the ad jumps out at us, and it will at you, too -- "yet." It's an oddly positive term when it comes after the phrase "he's not ready." It implies to the viewer that, someday, Obama might be ready. And it reminds us of conversations we had a few months ago with various McCain partisans, who believed if they could convince voters that Obama would be president someday if he loses this year, then McCain could win. That word "yet" is aimed at those voters who want change, are tired of Bush, aren't thrilled with McCain these last few weeks, but aren't convinced Obama's ready. It may be too late to make the "McCain as transitional president" argument, but this is a fickle electorate.

*** Obama camp plays the Palin card: McCain, though, isn't the only one up with a new TV ad. The Obama camp has unveiled a new one that uses McCain's past quotes about his lack of understanding on economic issues. And it also appears to be the first Obama ad that brings up McCain's choice of Palin as his running mate. The script: "John McCain in his own words 'I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated.' Wall Street Journal, 11/26/05. 'The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should.' Boston Globe Political Intelligence, 12/18/07. 'I might have to rely on a vice president that I select" for expertise on economic issues.' GOP Debate, 11/28/07.His choice? (Shows a clip of Palin winking.) On November 4th, You Get to Make Yours." Now if history is any guide, attack ads on running mates usually don't work. But then again, Palin's no ordinary running mate.

*** Too close to call? Last night, the McCain campaign released a memo from its pollster, Bill McInturff, who argued that his polls show the race to be tightening. "The McCain campaign has made impressive strides over the last week of tracking. The campaign is functionally tied [Editor's Note: "functionally" is an interesting term, but we digress] across the battleground states, with our numbers IMPROVING sharply over the last four tracks… As other public polls begin to show Senator Obama dropping below 50% and the margin over McCain beginning to approach margin of error with a week left, all signs say we are headed to an election that may easily be too close to call by next Tuesday." The fact is, McInturff doesn't make up poll numbers. The key to this election and understanding which polls are right and which ones are wrong have everything to do with projecting turnout. What percentage of the electorate will be under 30? What percentage will be African-American? If you know the answers to those two questions, you'll have a poll that's more likely to be correct. Some other interesting nuggets in his memo: McInturff believes turnout will surpass 130 million; that's actually a conservative estimate given that others believe the number will get closer to 140 million and possibly even 145 million. Also, McInturff believes something we've argued for some time: Obama's poll number will be his number in a given state; undecided voters will break for McCain. And it is this final point that does have McCain folks not throwing in the towel yet. While there might not be such a thing as the "Bradley Effect," there could be a "Wilder Effect." In Doug Wilder's race, he was at 50% in the final polls and that's basically what he got on Election Day. It was enough for victory, but undecideds dramatically moved against him.

*** Polls, polls, polls: By the way, here are some of the most recent battleground polls we've seen. New LA Times/Bloomberg surveys have Obama ahead among likely voters by seven points in Florida (50%-43%) and by nine points in Ohio (49%-40%). New Quinnipiac polls show McCain gaining ground in Florida (Obama ahead 47%-45%, down from 49%-44%), but Obama maintaining big leads in Ohio (51%-42%) and Pennsylvania (53%-41%). Finally, a slew of new state polls from the AP: Florida (Obama 45%-43%), Nevada (Obama 52%-40%), New Hampshire (Obama 55%-37%), North Carolina (Obama 48%-46%), Ohio (Obama 48%-41%), Pennsylvania (Obama 52%-40%), and Virginia (Obama 49%-42%).

*** The Mississippi Senate race: When he hit the road on a swing through the politically hot Southern United States, MSNBC.com's Tom Curry spotted an Obama ad during the 6:00 pm local news in Jackson, MS -- a state that hasn't given a Democrat a victory since 1982.  That may be surprising, until you take a look at the demographic groups that will help decide Mississippi's Senate race on November 4th. The contest pits an embattled Republican incumbent, Roger Wicker, against former Governor Ronnie Musgrove (D), who's seen $7 million pumped into his once-unlikely campaign by the DSCC.  An Obama-fueled spike in turnout among African Americans -- who made up about 34% of the electorate in 2004 -- could mix with Musgrove's high name recognition to launch the Democrat to victory and the Senate one vote closer to 60. Wicker has a big lead in polls, but when you talk to strategists, the assumption is that huge African-American turnout will close things dramatically. One thing to keep in mind, though: There's no party ID on the ballot. If there are a bunch of new voters showing up who haven't followed the race but want to vote for the Democrat, they won't know which one is the Dem on the ballot; they'll need to know this information before the go into the polls. Day of information campaigns is going to prove potentially decisive for Musgrove.

*** The ballot prop in SD: South Dakota, not always the laser focus of the nation's political attention, caught a piece of the election spotlight in 2006, when it voted down a ballot initiative that would have banned almost all abortions. That measure, which did not include exceptions for rape and incest, was viewed as too restrictive by a majority of the state's voters, who rejected the initiative 56%-44%. This year, South Dakotans will take up a similar, though less restrictive, ballot initiative that includes more exceptions to an abortion ban but would still -- if passed -- likely prompt a Supreme Court showdown over one of the country's most controversial topics. 

*** Fun fact of the day: Dela-where? With McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, and Dem running mate Joe Biden all attended the University of Delaware, it's worth pointing out that prior to 2000, the state was a bellwether. It voted for every winner from 1952 to 1996 -- tied for the longest streak of any state at the time.

*** On the trail: McCain spends his day in Florida, holding a "Joe the plumber" event in Miami, a national security roundtable in Tampa, and then another "Joe the plumber" event in Palm Beach. Obama attends rallies in Raleigh, NC, Sunrise, FL (joined by Biden), and Orlando, FL (joined by Bill Clinton). Biden separately campaigns in Jupiter, FL. Palin, in Ohio, delivers a policy speech on energy in Toledo before hitting rallies in Bowling Green, Chillicothe, and later Jeffersonville, IN. And Michelle Obama stumps in Rocky Mount, NC.

Countdown to Election Day 2008: 6 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 71 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 83 days
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