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First Thoughts: Unchanged

Our latest NBC News battleground map shows no change since June… 237 electoral votes in the Dem column, 191 in the GOP’s, and 110 are in the toss-up category… Ranking the nine toss-up states… Breaking down a slew of new state polls… Romney to unveil energy plan in Hobbs, NM at 12:55 pm ET… And the AP and NYT give Team Obama some unwelcome scrutiny on donors/key contributors.

*** Unchanged: In NBC News’ latest battleground state map before the conventions, President Obama maintains his lead over Mitt Romney, with 237 electoral votes in the Democratic column and 191 in the GOP one. That’s unchanged from our last map back in June. The toss-up states, representing 110 electoral votes, are the same, too: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. (Yes, we’ve had Wisconsin in the toss-up column since June.) And all of this reflects how little the race has moved, despite everything that has happened in the past two-plus months. Here’s the map:  

With just four days until the RNC, President Barack Obama shares his thoughts on the Todd Akin controversy, doing his best to extend the conversation on abortion and reproductive rights. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports.

Solid Dem (no chance at flip): DC, DE, HI, ME (3 EVs) MD, MA, NY, RI, VT (70 electoral votes)
Likely Dem (takes a landslide to flip): CA, CT, IL, WA (94)
Lean Dem: ME (1 EV) MI, MN, NJ, NM, OR, PA (73)
Toss-up: CO, FL, IA, NV, NH, NC, OH, VA, WI (110)
Lean GOP: AZ, GA, IN, MO, NE (I EV) (49)
Likely GOP (takes a landslide to flip): AL, LA, MS, MT, ND, SC, SD, TX (79)
Solid GOP (no chance at flip): AK, AR, ID, KS, KY, NE (4 EVs) OK, TN, UT, WV, WY (63)

*** Breaking down the nine toss-up states: One way to look at the nine toss-up states is in the likelihood of Romney being able to flip them from blue to red. Here’s our list (from most likely to least likely):

1. North Carolina
2. Iowa
3. Florida
4. Colorado
5. Virginia
6. Nevada
7. Ohio
8. Wisconsin
9. New Hampshire

What’s striking about this list is if you give Romney the Top 4 (NC, IA, FL, and CO) that only gets him to 250 electoral votes. And if you give him the next two on the list (VA and NV), he’s still one short of 270 (bringing us to that 269-269 tie). That means he has to put one of Ohio, Wisconsin, or New Hampshire into the mix to get past 270. Bottom line: Romney’s map to 270 is more than doable, but it’s also a high-wire act. By the way, we were debating whether to put Wisconsin ahead of Ohio (given the polls below), but what wins out -- for now -- is that the Obama and Romney campaigns aren’t advertising there right now. 

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*** A slew of new state polls: Given our new NBC battleground map, there are plenty of new state polls out there. A trio of New York Times/CBS/Quinnipiac polls of likely voters suggests that Romney got a slight bounce from the Paul Ryan pick in Wisconsin and Florida, but no real bounce in Ohio. In Florida, it’s Obama 49%, Romney 46% (down from 51%-45% earlier this month); in Ohio, it’s Obama 50%, Romney 44% (unchanged); and in Wisconsin, it’s Obama 49%, Romney 47% (down from 51%-45%). The New York Times notes that the Romney-Ryan plan to overhaul Medicare is unpopular in these three states, and Obama leads Romney in all three states on the question of who would do a better job on Medicare. But what strikes us are these numbers: Almost 60% in all three states say that Obama cares about the needs and problems of people like them, while less than 45% say the same about Romney. Yesterday, a Marquette Law School poll had Obama leading Romney in Wisconsin by three points among likely voters, 49%-46%, down from five points before the Ryan pick (50%-45%). 

*** Obama camp rolls out Bill Clinton: Remember when we told you that the Romney campaign was making a gamble by elevating Bill Clinton in its TV ads and on the campaign trail? Well, the Obama camp is calling their bluff by releasing a new TV ad featuring the former president. “This election to me is about which candidate is more likely to return us to full employment. This is a clear choice,” Clinton says to the camera. “The Republican plan is to cut more taxes on upper income people and go back to deregulation. That’s what got us in trouble in the first place.” Clinton concludes, “President Obama has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up, investing in innovation, education and job training. It only works if there is a strong middle class. That’s what happened when I was president. We need to keep going with his plan.” It should be noted that Clinton, who will give a primetime speech at the upcoming Democratic convention, has a 57%-23% fav/unfav rating in our poll. 

*** Romney to talk energy: At 12:55 pm ET from Hobbs, NM, Romney will unveil his energy policy, NBC’s Garrett Haake reports. “The Romney policy, spelled out in a white paper and on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, focuses on developing domestic fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal - in large part by shifting federal responsibilities to the states, and by expanding exploration and production nationwide... Romney's plan would make states the custodian of energy production on federal lands within their borders and allow them to implement their own federally-approved leasing practices." Haake adds that Romney's plan “pays little attention to renewable fuels like wind and solar power.” The Obama camp issued this statement from former Clinton Energy Secretary Federico Pena: “Only two days after a fundraiser hosted by the CEO of major oil companies, Romney is expected to defend billions in oil subsidies while opposing efforts to use oil more efficiently and develop homegrown alternative energy. We will never reach energy independence by turning our backs on homegrown renewable energy and better auto mileage.”  

Isaac Brekken / AP

President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign stop, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, in North Las Vegas, Nev.

*** Money for nothing? Republicans and the Romney campaign are seizing on these two stories today. The AP: “A veteran Wall Street executive [Herbert M. Allison Jr.] who performed an independent review that exonerated the Obama administration's program of loans to energy companies contributed $52,500 to re-elect President Barack Obama in the months since completing his work... The executive defended the integrity of his conclusions and said he decided to donate to Obama after his work was finished.” And here’s the New York Times on the Obama administration’s close ties to the Illinois-based energy firm Exelon: “With energy an increasingly pivotal issue for the Obama White House, a review of Exelon’s relationship with the administration shows how familiarity has helped foster access at the upper reaches of government and how, in some cases, the outcome has been favorable for Exelon.” 

*** On the trail: As mentioned above, Romney holds his energy event in Hobbs, NM at 12:55 pm ET… Ryan attends a defense-industry roundtable in Fayetteville, NC at noon ET. And when Ryan raises money in Missouri today, organized labor says they’ll have a protest featuring local truck drivers, retirees, and construction workers.  

Countdown to GOP convention: 4 days
Countdown to Dem convention: 11 days
Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 41 days
Countdown to VP debate: 49 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 54 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 60 days
Countdown to Election Day: 75 days

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