Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Battleground Ohio

Focusing on Battleground Ohio… The campaigns release two new TV ads summing up their messages in the Buckeye State… On Romney’s tax returns… On Obama’s do-no-harm week… Dueling “60 Minutes” interviews served as a debate preview of sorts… And both campaigns treated them like debates, with their rapid-response teams in high alert… And don’t’ forget: Todd Akin’s deadline to withdraw from Missouri’s Senate race is tomorrow.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks to supporters during a campaign rally on September 22, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

*** Battleground Ohio: On Sunday, the University of Cincinnati poll became the latest survey to show Mitt Romney trailing in the Buckeye State -- and perhaps more importantly, President Obama hitting 50% or more there. According to the poll, Obama leads Romney by five points among likely voters in the state, 51%-46%, which is close to what our recent NBC/WSJ/Marist poll of Ohio showed, 50%-43%. And here’s the reality for the GOP in this almost must-win state for them: Right now, you could argue that Obama is in a stronger position in North Carolina (his most challenging battleground state) than Romney is in Ohio (a state that EVERY victorious Republican presidential nominee has won). And this is why the GOP ticket is blitzing through the Buckeye State this week -- as if the 2012 campaign depended on it, because, well, it does. Running mate Paul Ryan today starts off an Ohio bus tour by stumping in Lima at 3:10 pm ET. Romney joins him in Vandalia on Tuesday, and then the presidential nominee stumps in Westerville and Toledo on Wednesday. But that’s not all the campaigning in Ohio this week. On the Democratic side, Obama hits the state on Wednesday, and the DNC has its own bus tour bracketing the GOP ticket.

*** The campaigns’ latest TV ads: Also tied to the Romney campaign’s bus tour through Ohio is an exchange of TV ads by the campaigns that’s really almost exclusively about Ohio and its white working-class swing voting population. The Obama campaign is airing a new TV ad in the state that seizes on Romney’s “47%” remarks. “Mitt Romney attacked 47% of Americans who pay no income tax, including veterans, elderly, the disabled,” the ad begins. “Doesn’t the President have to worry about everyone? Mitt Romney paid just 14.1% in taxes last year. He keeps millions in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. He won’t release his tax returns before 2010.” And it concludes, “Maybe instead of attacking others on taxes, Romney should come clean on his.” Meanwhile, the Romney campaign has its own new TV ad that is clearly about these voters, and wants to shift the resentment from himself to China. “Fewer Americans are working today than when President Obama took office. It doesn’t have to be this way -- if Obama would stand up to China.” The advertisement ends, “Obama had years to stand up to China. We can’t afford four more.” These two new TV ads pretty much sum up the campaigns’ respective strategies when it comes to Ohio: Obama is hitting Romney’s personal wealth, and Romney is trying to bash China.

*** On Romney’s tax returns: Speaking of Romney’s tax returns, he released his 2011 return on Friday, as well as a short summary of the tax rates he paid going back to 1990. The Romney camp’s timing was smart -- on its worst week of the campaign, dump all the bad news you can to get everything out of the way. But the campaign also didn’t answer all the questions about Romney’s past tax returns; the only way to do that would be to release the actual returns, not a short summary. But here’s the bottom line about the tax-return issue: The Obama campaign succeeded in making it a talking point and attack (just see its new TV ad), and the Romney camp seems to have succeeded in its goal to not release the actual returns prior to 2010.

*** On Obama’s do-no-harm week: When it comes to the UN meetings this week in New York, Obama is playing prevent defense. While he addresses the UN on Tuesday, he isn’t holding a single meeting with any world leader (not Israel’s Netanyahu, not Egypt’s Morsi). But can he fully get away with this strategy? The fact is there are a lot of questions about America’s role in the Middle East, how the administration has responded to the uprisings and of course, the unanswered questions surrounding the attack on Ambassador Stevens in Libya. He’s avoided questions on this topic beyond generalities. Interestingly, what the president said on “60 Minutes” (an interview taped before the administration had publicly acknowledged al Qaeda’s role in Libya), about “bumps in the road” came across as a tad tone deaf. While he may be right in the grand scheme of things, given the current state of the investigation in Libya, we’re guessing he wished he hadn’t worded things that way.

*** Previewing the debates… : It’s nine days until the first presidential debate in Colorado, but last night’s dueling (and separate) Obama-Romney interviews on “60 Minutes” served as a preview of sorts for the upcoming debates. Here was Romney on the role of government: "Make government smaller. Don't build these massive deficits that pass debt onto our kids, rebuild the foundation of America's strength with great homes, great schools, with entrepreneurship and innovation. Here was Obama: “I think there's no bigger purpose right now than making sure that if people work hard in this country, they can get ahead. That's the central American idea. That's how we sent a man to the moon. Because there was an economy that worked for everybody and that allowed us to do that. Here was Romney on taxes: “[My plan] would be the current rates less 20%. So the top rate, for instance, would go from 35 to 28. Middle rates would come down by 20% as well. All the rates come down. Here was Obama: “[T]he problem that Gov. Romney has is that he seems to only have one note: tax cuts for the wealthy and rolling back regulations as a recipe for success. Well, we tried that vigorously between 2001 and 2008. And it didn't work out so well.”

*** … on role of government, taxes, the deficit, and national security: Also in during his “60 Minutes” interview, Romney said this about tackling the budget deficit: “I'm going to look at every federal program and I'll ask this question, ‘Is this … program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?" And if it doesn't pass that test, I'm going to eliminate the program because we just can't afford to keep spending more money than we take in.” Obama said, “[W]e've already cut a trillion dollars of spending. And I've told them I'm prepared to do additional spending cuts and do some entitlement reform. But what I've said is, ‘You can't ask me to make student loans higher for kids who need it or ask seniors to pay more for their Medicare or throw people off of health care and not ask somebody like me or Mr. Romney to do anything, not ask us to do a single dime's worth of sacrifice.’” And here was Romney on national security: “I thought that the surge troops [to Afghanistan] should have been brought back in November of this year, not September. I don't think you try and bring back troops during the fighting season. I think that was a mistake. I think it was also a mistake to announce the precise date of our withdrawal.” And Obama: I said I'd end the war in Iraq. I did. I said that we'd go after al Qaeda. They've been decimated in the Fatah. That we'd go after bin Laden. He's gone. So I've executed on my foreign policy. And it's one that the American people largely agree with. So if Gov. Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so.

*** And treating the interviews like they were the debates: Strikingly, both the Romney and Obama campaigns treated last night’s “60 Minutes” interview like they were debates. The Romney camp pounced on Obama referring to Israel as “one of our closest allies in the region” instead of THE closest ally. It also seized on the president calling the current unrest in the Muslim world “bumps in the road” after the Arab Spring. For their part, Democrats and the Obama campaign jumped all over Romney saying it was fair that he pays a lower tax rate than other Americans do. By the way, both sides are still doing mock debates. NBC’s Garrett Haake reported that Romney did another round with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman on Sunday, while First Read can report that Obama practiced at the DNC on Friday with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (with the first lady in attendance).

*** On the trail: Romney holds a rally in Pueblo, CO at 2:00 pm ET… And Ryan stumps in Lima, OH at 3:10 pm ET.

*** Polling update: Here’s a wrap of all the recent polling we’ve seen: As mentioned above, the University of Cincinnati poll shows Obama up by five points among likely voters in Ohio, 51%-46%... In Florida, a Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9/Mason-Dixon survey has Obama at 48% and Romney at 47%... And there’s a national Politico/GWU Battleground poll of likely voters that has Obama at 50% and Romney at 47%.

*** Akin it harder for the GOP: Don’t forget: The drop-dead deadline for Todd Akin to withdraw from Missouri’s Senate race is tomorrow, and it doesn’t seem like he’s going anywhere. Today, at 12:30 pm ET, he holds a press conference with Newt Gingrich, who has been defending him.

Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 9 days
Countdown to VP debate: 17 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 22 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 28 days
Countdown to Election Day: 43 days

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower