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First Thoughts: Obama's battleground edge grows

Obama’s edge grows in NBC battleground map… 243 EVs in Obama’s column, 191 in Romney’s, and 104 in Toss-up category… NBC/WSJ/Marist polls of CO, IA, and WI provide evidence of the past week taking a toll on Romney… Romney’s lost week… Get this: By tomorrow, voters in 25 states will already be casting ballots… Obama stumps in VA, while Romney is in NV… And “Meet” has Kelly Ayotte and Deval Patrick.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd talks about the "hectic" week that was for Mitt Romney and their efforts to shift the focus back to President Barack Obama.

*** Obama’s battleground edge grows: In NBC's first battleground map since the conventions and a slew of new state polling, President Obama has expanded his electoral-vote lead over Mitt Romney -- but only slightly. There are now 243 electoral votes in Obama’s column and 191 in Romney’s, with 104 in the Toss-up category; 270 are needed to win the presidency. Last month, before the conventions, the president was ahead 237-191. The one change: We've moved Iowa from Toss-up to Lean Obama based on our new NBC/WSJ/Marist polls and our conversations with the campaigns. Perhaps in no other state outside of Ohio and Virginia has Obama done more physical campaigning than in Iowa, and it appears to have paid off. Since April, he’s made seven visits and held 15 different events in the state, compared with Romney’s seven visits but just seven events. Re-read the comparison again -- this is a regular discrepancy between the Obama and Romney campaigns. The president packs in a lot more events, on average, when he visits a battleground state than Romney does.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Barack Obama takes part in a town hall hosted by Univision at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida September 20, 2012.

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: IA, ME (1 EV) MI, MN, NJ, NM, OR, PA (79)
Toss-up: CO, FL, NV, NH, NC, OH, VA, WI (104)
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)

*** Evidence of the past week taking a toll on Romney: Speaking of our NBC/WSJ/Marist surveys, we released results from three more states last night: In both Colorado and Wisconsin, Obama is ahead by five points among likely voters, 50%-45%. And in Iowa, the president’s edge over Romney is eight, 50%-42%. These new polls -- conducted after the political firestorm over those U.S. embassy attacks and during the release of that video showing Romney talking about the “47%” -- show the toll the last week has taken on Romney. A plurality of likely voters view the GOP presidential nominee in a negative light in all three states. In Colorado, his fav/unfav is 43%-46%; in Iowa, it’s 42%-50%; and in Wisconsin, it’s 43%-46%. By contrast, out of last week’s three NBC/WSJ/Marist polls in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, just one of them (Ohio) found Romney with an under-water fav/unfav. Meanwhile, Obama’s fav/unfav scores in Colorado (51%-45%), Iowa (53%-42%), and Wisconsin (51%-44%) are all above water and more importantly above 50%. By the way, do note that favorable ratings, job ratings, and ballot tests are all starting to converge.  

*** Other findings in our polls: According to these new polls, Obama and Romney are essentially tied on the question of which candidate would do a better job in handling the economy, which our recent national NBC/WSJ poll also found… In Colorado, Obama is leading Romney among Latinos by 50 points, 73%-23% (that’s right over 70% among Latinos)... In Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin, his fav/unfav rating (49%-40%) is about as high as Obama’s (51%-44%), and the Romney-Ryan ticket leads Obama-Biden in Ryan’s congressional district, 52%-46%... And also in Wisconsin, it’s very close in that competitive Senate contest, with Tammy Baldwin (D) getting 48% among likely voters and Tommy Thompson (R) getting 46%. This result continues a trend we’ve seen in other Wisconsin polling: Baldwin’s trajectory is up, Thompson’s down.

*** Romney’s lost week: The Romney campaign began this week by rolling a new message tied to two new TV ads that were as good as the campaign had released in weeks, but the fallout over the “47%” video blew all of that up. In fact, it found itself on the defensive for at least two days. The campaign tried to regroup by changing the subject to that “redistribution” hit on Obama (which didn’t include Obama’s comments about competition and the marketplace). And yesterday, it seized on Obama’s remarks that “you can’t change Washington from the inside; you can only change it from the outside.” Romney quickly fired back while on the stump yesterday in Florida, per NBC’s Garrett Haake: “He said he can’t change Washington from inside. He can only change it from outside. Well, we’re going to give him that chance in November. He’s going outside!” But here’s the situation in which Romney and his campaign find themselves: They’re stuck chasing news cycles, and chasing news cycles is a vicious cycle -- it’s tough to get out of, especially late in a campaign. The week began with seven weeks to go; now we move to six weeks.

*** Which states are already voting? Per NBC’s Kyle Inskeep, Idaho and South Dakota today are the first states to begin early-in-person voting. Also today, absentee voting begins in Minnesota, West Virginia, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Georgia, Arkansas, Idaho, and Maryland. This brings the total number of states already accepting ballots to 12. Thirteen additional states (South Carolina, New Jersey, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Delaware, Virginia, Louisiana, and Missouri) will begin absentee or early voting on Saturday. So by tomorrow, half the country will be casting votes (battleground states in bold): AR, DE, GA, ID, IN, KY, LA, ME, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, NH, NJ, NC, OK, SC, SD, TN, TX, VT, VA, WV, WI.

*** Here’s rundown on all the latest polls:
National
:
Reason-Rupe/Princeton Survey: Obama 52%-45%
Allstate/National Journal
: Obama 50%-43%

State:
IA: NBC/WSJ/Marist: Obama 50%-42%
CO: NBC/WSJ/Marist: Obama 50%-45%
WI: NBC/WSJ/Marist: Obama 50%-45%
MI: Detroit News/WDIV/Glengariff: Obama 52%-38%
NV: CNN/ORC: Obama 49-46%

*** On the trail: Obama stumps in Woodbridge, VA at 12:45 pm ET, and before that he addresses the AARP via satellite at 11:45 am ET… Paul Ryan speaks to the AARP conference, in person, that takes place in New Orleans… Romney holds a rally in Las Vegas at 5:00 pm… And Biden and his wife campaign in New Hampshire.

*** Previewing Ryan’s AARP speech: Per excerpts of his remarks, Ryan will say this about Medicare to the AARP: "The first step to a stronger Medicare is to repeal Obamacare, because it represents the worst of both worlds. It weakens Medicare for today’s seniors and puts it at risk for the next generation. First, it funnels $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. Second, it puts 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of Medicare’s future." And Ryan will add, "Now, in order to save Medicare for future generations, we propose putting 50 million seniors, not 15 unaccountable bureaucrats, in charge of their own health-care decisions. Our plan empowers future seniors to choose the coverage that works best for them from a list of plans that are required to offer at least the same level of benefits as traditional Medicare.  This financial support system is designed to guarantee that seniors can always afford Medicare coverage -- no exceptions.  And if a senior wants to choose the traditional Medicare plan, then she will have that right.

*** On “Meet” this Sunday: NBC’s David Gregory interviews Sen. Kelly Ayotte (surrogate for Romney) and Gov. Deval Patrick (surrogate for Obama).

Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 12 days
Countdown to VP debate: 20 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 25 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 31 days
Countdown to Election Day: 46 days

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