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First Thoughts: Obama's post-convention advantage

Obama’s post-convention advantage in the swing states of FL, OH, and VA… New NBC/WSJ/Marist polls: FL -- Obama 49%, Romney 44%... OH -- Obama 50%, Romney 43%... VA -- Obama 49%, Romney 44%... The debates can’t come soon enough for Romney… The Clinton bump… Romney dials down his embassy-attack criticism, but his campaign dials it back up… Fed’s action serves as a double-edged sword for Obama… Fact-checking the Romney camp’s latest ad… And Romney stumps in OH.

NBC's Chuck Todd breaks down the numbers from a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of battleground states. The numbers appear to show an advantage for President Obama.

*** Obama’s post-convention advantage: After the two political conventions, President Obama leads Mitt Romney in three of the most important battleground states, according to new NBC/WSJ/Marist polls. In both Florida and Virginia, Obama is ahead of Romney by five points among likely voters, 49%-44%. In Ohio, the president's lead is seven points, 50%-43%. "You'd rather be in Obama's shoes than Romney's in these three critical states," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. Just how important are these three states? According to our battleground map, Romney likely needs to capture at least two of these states, if not all three, to get to 270 electoral votes. By comparison, Obama can hit or surpass that number by winning just one or two of these battlegrounds. And he even has a path WITHOUT these three states if he wins the toss-up contests of Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin. But winning two of these three battlegrounds -- Florida, Ohio, and Virginia -- checkmates Romney.

Ed Andrieski / AP

President Barack Obama waves after speaking at a campaign rally in Golden, Colo., Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012.

*** Are minds already made up? But if you're the Romney campaign, there's still time to turn things around. Miringoff says that Obama's leads are not "insurmountable," especially as the two candidates prepare for the first presidential debate on Oct. 3. Yet here's the problem for Romney in these polls: Most voters have already made up their minds. Just 5% to 6% say they're undecided, and more than 80% signal they strongly support their candidate. The debates can’t come SOON ENOUGH for Romney.

*** Who are the undecideds? By the way, we looked at the undecideds in all three states -- collectively -- and these are voters who simply aren’t paying attention. And frankly, they don’t look like voters. Consider: A third of them are also undecided on the president’s job rating!?!! They like the president personally (more so than Romney), but they also view the direction of the country a lot WORSE than the rest of the voters. Bottom line: These folks look like DISAFFECTED voters, they seem disengaged from the campaign, and they don’t call themselves enthusiastic about the election. They are probably NOT voters.

*** The Clinton bump: Outside the horserace figures, perhaps the most striking numbers in the polls are the right track/wrong track numbers. In all three battlegrounds, a majority of registered voters believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. But more than 40% think it's headed in the right direction -- which is an increase from these numbers from May, when the last time we measured Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. Call it the Bill Clinton bump: All of a sudden, a segment of voters are feeling better about the country's direction. And in a presidential contest, that matters. As Clinton said in his convention speech, “No president -- not me or any of my predecessors -- could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But conditions are improving, and if you'll renew the president's contract you will feel it.” Remember, the entire Bill Clinton argument was about making the case we’re on the “right track.” 

*** Final points about our polls: There’s a massive gender gap in all three states -- the president leads by double digits among women (16 points in Ohio, 12 in Florida, and 14 in Virginia), but Romney leads by just single digits among men in all three states (two in Ohio, four in Florida and five in Virginia). Also, while Romney’s fav/unfav rating in both VA and FL is a tad better than his national fav rating, it’s dismal in OH. His UNFAVORABLE rating hits the 50% mark in Ohio.  We think this is evidence that in Ohio, specifically, the Obama personal attacks on Romney’s wealth and tax returns have taken the greatest toll. That state, more than others in the battleground is more susceptible to populist arguments.

*** Romney dials it down, while the campaign dials it up: Whether it was his campaign event yesterday in Virginia or his interview with ABC, Romney clearly decided to lower the volume on his Egypt/Libya criticism of the Obama administration. “I thought the [Cairo embassy] statement was inappropriate and pointed that out. And of course, the White House also thought it was inappropriate,” he told ABC. “But of course, now our attention is focused on the loss of life and the tragedy.” Yet while Romney was dialing things back, his campaign tripled down on the story with advisers suggesting to the Washington Post that the Libyan embassy deaths wouldn’t have occurred if Romney were president. “There’s a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you’d be in a different situation,” Richard Williamson, a top Romney foreign policy adviser, told the Post. “For the first time since Jimmy Carter, we’ve had an American ambassador assassinated.”

*** Is a big Romney speech coming? Sometime before the debates, expect Romney to do a major policy speech, something big enough, they hope, to “change the narrative” -- if you will. They know the campaign has been too reactive to events and they’d like to lay down a marker and force the president to be reactive for once. The debate in the campaign, though, is on what topic. Do they go big and bold on foreign policy (riskier but with a potential greater reward if it works)? Or go back to the bread and butter and simply go big and more detailed on an economic argument as a way to set up the first debate? Compelling cases for either; there are a lot of major events in the next two weeks that would provide convenient venues for the foreign policy speech (United Nations week, Clinton Global Initiative, etc.)

*** To be an ally or not an ally -- that is the question: Meanwhile, the Obama administration yesterday walked back the president’s declaration on Wednesday night that Egypt is neither an ally nor an enemy, after it was reported that Egypt was designated a major non-NATO ally back in 1989. Then again, it appears Egypt got the message. The New York Times: “Following a blunt phone call from President Obama, Egyptian leaders scrambled Thursday to try to repair the country’s alliance with Washington, tacitly acknowledging that they erred in their response to the attack on the United States Embassy by seeking to first appease anti-American domestic opinion without offering a robust condemnation of the violence.” Domestically, the Obama administration looked disorganized on this ally question; just bizarre listening to Jay Carney’s “official definition” of ally to walk back his boss’ comments. But internationally, it does appear that Egypt got the message. Suddenly, it appears Morsi has shut down the protests for today.

*** Fed’s action a double-edged sword for Obama: The Federal Reserve’s decision yesterday to launch another round of “quantitative easing” -- i.e., to stimulate the economy by purchasing bonds from banks -- is a double-edged sword for the president and his administration. On the one hand, it allows critics like Romney to say it’s evidence that the administration’s economic policies haven’t worked (though do remember that the opposition party has controlled the U.S. House for almost the last two years). “The Federal Reserve’s announcement … is further confirmation that President Obama’s policies have not worked,” the Romney camp said yesterday. But on the other hand, the news sent the stock market soaring, and it -- at least in the short term -- signals confidence that maybe things are on the right track (see the Clinton bump above). 

*** Manufacturing fact check: The Romney campaign is out with an ad hitting the president on dealing with China, and it claims that the U.S. has lost 582,000 manufacturing jobs since Obama took office. Crunching the numbers, the Romney campaign apparently bases this on measuring from January 2009, when manufacturing workers made up 12,552,000 workers in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to preliminary August data, manufacturing jobs stood at 11,970,000 – a net reduction of 582,000. Of course, there is always an argument about which month of a presidency a president should begin to be blamed for jobs losses. The share of manufacturing workers hit its lowest point a year into Obama’s presidency, January 2010, when there were just 11,458,000 manufacturing workers. Compared to then, there are 512,000 more manufacturing workers. That’s a claim Obama made during his Charlotte acceptance speech and was rated “True” by Politifact. He claimed a gain of “over half a million manufacturing jobs” since January 2010. As with a lot of things jobs-numbers related, the trick is in where you start measuring.

*** On the trail: Romney campaigns in Painesville, OH at 3:05 pm ET… Paul Ryan and Ann Romney speak at the Values Voters Summit in DC, and then Ryan holds an event in Harrisonburg, VA at 2:35 pm ET… And Dr. Jill Biden stumps in Minnesota.

Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 19 days
Countdown to VP debate: 27 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 32 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 38 days
Countdown to Election Day: 53 days

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