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First Thoughts: One year out

One year out: NBC’s battleground map, which shows the presidential race is shaping up to be VERY competitive… One year out: new NBC/WSJ poll is released at 6:30 pm ET… Previewing tomorrow’s 2011 contests in Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, and Mississippi… Cain’s holding up (so far)… But Republicans (not the news media) aren’t letting the story go away… Cain to reporters: “Don’t even go there”… Romney’s day in Iowa… And Newt’s selling another book.

*** One year out: A year out from Election Day 2012, NBC’s battleground map shows that the presidential contest is shaping up to be VERY competitive and potentially VERY close; think 2004 meets 2000, with the 2008 states. According to the map, 196 electoral votes are in the Democratic column, while 195 are in the GOP column. And 147 electoral votes are considered a toss-up. The map also shows the toll the past summer took on President Obama: In April, it was 232 Dem, 191 GOP, with 115 toss-up. The big changes from April (and they’re all in the GOP’s direction): We moved Oregon from Likely Dem to Lean Dem; Michigan and Pennsylvania from Lean Dem to Toss-up; New Hampshire from Toss-up to Lean GOP; and Montana from Lean GOP to Likely GOP. A reminder: We do not always use just survey data to assess a state’s competitiveness; and we don’t always rely on publicly available data. The map, below, is based on our own reporting with input based on poll numbers we trust, some of those numbers are public but some are not.

Solid Dem (no chance at flip): DC, DE, HI, MD, MA, NY, RI, VT (67 electoral votes)
Likely Dem (takes a landslide to flip): CA, CT, IL, ME, WA (98)
Lean Dem: MN, NJ, OR (31)
Toss-up: CO, FL, IA, MI, NV, NM, NC, OH, PA, VA, WI (147)
Lean GOP: AZ, GA, MO, NE (one EV), NH (42)
Likely GOP (takes a landslide to flip): AL, AR, IN, LA, MS, MT, NE (four EVs), ND, SC, SD, TX (100)
Solid GOP (no chance at flip): AK, ID, KS, KY, OK, TN, UT, WV, WY (53)

*** This goes to 11: By the way, the 11 toss-up states fit nicely into three regions: the five in the Midwest/Rust Belt (IA, MI, OH, PA, WI), three in the New South (FL, NC, VA), and three in the West (CO, NV, NM).


*** One year out, Part 2: The polls: To mark the one-year-out point in the presidential contest, we’re releasing a new NBC/WSJ poll tonight at 6:30 pm ET. How do voters view Obama? The economy and nation’s direction? The Republican field? And the sexual-harassment allegations against Herman Cain? For the answers, be sure to tune into NBC “Nightly News,” or click on to MSNBC.com. By the way, Washington Post/ABC came out with its poll on Sunday, and it showed the president’s approval rating at 44%; Obama leading Romney by three points (48%-45%); Obama leading Cain by five (50%-45%); and Obama leading Perry by eight (51%-43%).

*** Cain’s holding up (so far): Herman Cain’s campaign is continuing to hold up a week after the sexual-harassment allegations first surfaced. In addition to the Washington Post/ABC poll (which showed a majority of GOP voters saying that the allegations aren’t a serious matter), Cain received rock-star treatment at the Americans for Prosperity summit (where he declared he’s the “Koch brothers’ brother from another mother”).

*** But Republicans -- not the news media -- aren’t letting the Cain story go away: But fellow Republicans aren’t letting the sexual-harassment allegations against Cain go away. “[I]t's up to Herman Cain to get the information out and get it out in total,” Jon Huntsman said on “Meet the Press” yesterday. “Legitimate questions have been raised, and that information has to come forward.” Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour added on the program, “I'm not one of the people that thinks this is necessary fatal; this may not hurt him at all. But people need to know what the facts are. And that's the challenge for him right now, to get those out as quickly as possible, get it behind him.”

*** Cain: “Don’t even go there”: Yet Cain doesn’t want to talk about it anymore: After his debate with Newt Gingrich on Saturday, Cain took questions from reporters during a press conference, NBC’s Andrew Rafferty reported over the weekend. But one subject was off limits. "Don't even go there," Cain told a reporter who began asking about the harassment allegations. Cain then asked his chief of staff, Mark Block, to deliver the reporter a copy of the "journalistic code of ethics." Later, a reporter asked Cain, "Are you not going to answer questions about this ever again?" With a grin, he responded: “You got it.” Cain went on to add, "We are getting back on message, end of story.”


Republican presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney at the American Dream Summit in Washington, DC, Nov. 4, 2011.

*** Romney’s day in Iowa: Today, per NBC’s Garrett Haake and Alex Moe, Mitt Romney makes just his fourth trip to Iowa this year -- and only his second one since August. He visits Dubuque at 1:15 pm ET and Davenport at 6:20 pm ET. Now less than two months before the caucuses, the last remaining piece of the primary puzzle is whether Romney makes a clear play for the Hawkeye State. So far, he’s tried to have Iowa both ways: He’s dipped his toes into the waters, but hasn’t jumped in just yet. But with polls showing him in the lead there (or in the co-lead), and with his campaign using tele-town halls to whack Perry in the state, Romney is beginning to approach the point of no return where he’s fully engaged in Iowa. 

*** Newt’s selling another book: By the way, Newt Gingrich might be getting a second look from Republican voters, at least according to the Beltway CW. But how is he using it? He went on “TODAY” this morning to promote his new book, “Battle of the Crater.” He’s got to shake this “he’s running to promote his side businesses” narrative if he’s going to get any new traction. Then again, the book tour isn’t hurting Cain -- at least not yet…

*** On the 2012 trail: Besides Romney’s stops in the Hawkeye State, Bachmann addresses the Family Research Council in DC… Santorum campaigns in New Hampshire… And Cain appears on “Jimmy Kimmel.”

*** Monday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up:  Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) on his presidential bid… DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse and RNC spokesman Sean Spicer square off with one year to go until Election Day 2012… Prof. Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center previews the launch of FlackCheck.org… And more 2012 news with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Green, former Obama White House Deputy Communications Director Jen Psaki and former RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

*** Monday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, Politico’s Jonathan Martin, the New York Times’ Nick Confessore, the Center for American Progress’ Neera Tanden, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, CNBC’s Jim Cramer, and Dem Rep. Carolyn Maloney.

*** Monday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Rep. Donald Payne will be joining Tamron today on “News Nation” to talk about the union battle in Ohio.

Countdown to Election Day 2011: 1 day
Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 57 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 75 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 85 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 89 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 120 days

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