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First Thoughts: After Tampa and Charlotte

The state of the race after Tampa and Charlotte: Obama is still ahead… Romney, once again, is unable to list a specific loophole he’d close to pay for tax plan… Romney on his “Afghanistan” omission and health care… Team Obama tops Team Romney in August fundraising -- barely… Over the weekend, Romney endorsed Steve King and hung out with Pat Robertson… Romney camp goes up on the air in Wisconsin… Woodward’s argument: Obama didn’t lead during debt-ceiling debate… And Romney stumps in Ohio at 3:00 pm ET, while Obama is down.

*** The state of the race after Tampa and Charlotte: President Obama went into the two conventions with the lead over Mitt Romney, and he comes out of them with the lead. (And he may very well have expanded his lead if you believe the Gallup tracking poll and other robo-surveys, about which we ALWAYS preach caution). You can tell from the quotes who's ahead in the race. “The Romney campaign … said the post-convention bounce they hoped for fell well short of expectations and privately lament that state-by-state polling numbers — most glaringly in Ohio — are working in the president’s favor,” Politico reported over the weekend. You can also tell from the body language, as the Romney camp jumped all over Friday's jobs report to try to change the narrative from the two weeks of conventions. And you can tell from the map, too, with the Romney camp now advertising in Wisconsin but not in Michigan or Pennsylvania. Romney’s next chance (and maybe final one) to change the contours of this race will be that first presidential debate on Oct. 3 in Colorado.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd takes a look at the recent poll numbers and campaign stumps made by both candidates.

*** Where are the specifics? Given that upcoming debate, doesn’t Romney have to come up with some more specifics on his tax plan between now and then? If he doesn’t, the Obama campaign will continue to fill in the blanks and argue that Romney’s plan will raise taxes on the middle class. In his “Meet the Press” interview, Romney was unable -- again -- to give an example of a loophole he’d close to made his tax-cut plan revenue neutral. DAVID GREGORY: “Give me an example of a loophole that you will close.” ROMNEY: “Well, I can tell you that people at the high end, high income taxpayers, are going to have fewer deductions and exemptions.” And on ABC, running mate Paul Ryan said a Romney White House would consult with Congress on which loopholes to close. Campaigning in Florida, per NBC’s Ali Weinberg, Obama pounced. “Gov. Romney and his allies tell us that we can somehow lower our deficit by spending trillions on new tax breaks for the wealthy. Listen, you’ve got to do the math because when my opponents were asked about it today, they couldn’t. It was like two plus one equals five.”

Terry Renna / AP

President Barack Obama greets supporters at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Fla., during a campaign stop Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012.

*** And where is the distance from Bush? And it’s just not the specifics. Romney has yet to fully make the case how his policies are any different than George W. Bush’s (outside balancing the budget). Compare this to Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, which was ALL ABOUT differentiating himself from Jimmy Carter and the Democratic Party. If Romney doesn’t fill in the blanks, and try to distance his policies from Bush’s, you can easily see how Obama can fight Romney to a draw in that first debate.

*** Romney on his “Afghanistan” omission: Also on “Meet,” NBC’s Gregory asked Romney why he never said the word “Afghanistan” in his acceptance speech, despite all the U.S. troops who are serving and dying there. Romney responded by downplaying the significance of words in a speech. “I find it interesting that people are curious about mentioning words in a speech as opposed to policy. And so I went to the American Legion the day before I gave that speech … and spoke with our veterans there and described my policy as it relates to Afghanistan and other foreign policy and our military.” When Gregory told him that American Legion speech wasn’t seen by tens of millions of people like the acceptance speech was, Romney replied, “You know, what I've found is that wherever I go I am speaking to tens of millions of people.” Romney’s answer on his failure to mention Afghanistan came after he was asked an identical question on FOX. “When you give a speech you don't go through a laundry list, you talk about the things that you think are important and I described in my speech, my commitment to a strong military unlike the president's decision to cut our military." Romney had two shots at cleaning this up, and he really didn’t take the opportunity.

*** Romney on health care: And Romney continued to have problems talking about health care. After stating that he was going to replace Obamacare, the GOP presidential nominee told Gregory, “I'm not getting rid of all of health-care reform. Of course there are a number of things that I like in health-care reform that I'm going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like.” But as we’ve explained before, it’s very hard to see how health insurance companies would provide those benefits – like mandating coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans – if the health-care law is repealed and you have a smaller pool of insured Americans.

*** Team Obama tops Team Romney -- barely -- in August fundraising: For the first time since April, Team Obama (the campaign, DNC, victory fund) outraised Team Romney (campaign, RNC, victory fund) in August, $114 million to $111.6 million. These numbers are both monthly highs for each side. The Obama campaign says its August haul came from 1.1 million donors -- representing a third of its 3.1 million donors to date -- which suggests that its grassroots support is beginning to kick into a higher gear. We won't see an actual apples-to-apples breakdown of the August fundraising until the FEC deadline of Sept. 20.

*** Endorsing King and hanging out with Robertson: With less than 60 days before Election Day, why was Romney endorsing conservative Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and hanging out with Pat Robertson? “I’m looking here at Steve King because this man needs to be your congressman again,” Romney said on Friday. “I want him as my partner in Washington, D.C.” Don’t think that Steve King endorsement didn’t show up on Univision or Telemundo… This just seemed like odd primary-style politicking at a time when Romney needs to be wooing more mainstream suburban swing voters.

*** Advertising in Wisconsin: As we mentioned above, the Romney campaign announced this weekend that it’s airing a new TV ad in Wisconsin – its first there in the general election. (We’ve yet to see confirmation how big the actual buy is, however.) What is surprising isn’t that the Romney camp is advertising in Wisconsin. What’s surprising is how long it took them. We all know Wisconsin is a swing state, and we know that the Romney camp has plenty of money. So what took so long?

*** Woodward’s argument: What’s particularly striking about the new Bob Woodward book is that, unlike his past works, he’s making an argument rather than trying to recreate and report on a past event and letting others draw the conclusions. Woodward’s argument here: Obama didn’t lead in the debt-ceiling debate. Woodward told ABC, per Political Wire: "President Clinton, President Reagan. And if you look at them, you can criticize them for lots of things. They by and large worked their will," Woodward said." On this, President Obama did not." He added, "Now, some people are going to say he was fighting a brick wall, the Republicans in the House and the Republicans in Congress. Others will say it's the president's job to figure out how to tear down that brick wall. In this case, he did not." Does the Woodward book on such an ugly inside the Beltway fight have legs in the swing states in these final days? We’ll see.

*** On the trail: Romney has a rally in Mansfield, OH at 3:00 pm ET… Ryan raises money in Portland, OR… And Obama is down today.

*** What to watch the rest of this week: Tuesday is the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and Obama, Biden, and Romney all have events tied to this anniversary… Bill Clinton campaigns for Obama in Miami (on Tuesday) and Orlando (on Wednesday)… And Obama stumps in Las Vegas (on Wednesday) and Denver (on Thursday).

Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 23 days
Countdown to VP debate: 31 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 36 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 42 days
Countdown to Election Day: 57 days

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