Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Needing a great October

Romney in need of a great October… The debate expectations game: Christie raises the bar for Romney, while Obama lowers it for himself… Romney hits Obama on Libya, Middle East in new WSJ op-ed… Obama administration fully changes its tune on the Libya attack… Ryan on the math behind Romney’s tax plan: “It would take me too long to go through all of that”… Romney holds a rally in Denver at 9:15 pm ET, while Obama does his debate prep in Henderson, NV… And new Boston Globe poll has Elizabeth Warren ahead as she and Scott Brown debate tonight in Massachusetts.

Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney leaves his campaign headquarters in Boston on September 30, 2012.

*** Needing a great October: One of the truths of this presidential contest is that Mitt Romney hasn’t just had a rough last three weeks; he’s also had a rough last three months. In fact, you could argue that he hasn’t “won” a month since May or June (and June turned against him in a hurry, think of the SCOTUS decision on health care). In July, Romney battled questions about his tax returns, his tenure at Bain Capital, and even his overseas trip to Europe and Israel. In August, the Paul Ryan VP pick didn’t give the campaign much of a bounce, and Clint Eastwood’s impromptu dialogue with an empty chair upstaged Romney’s own convention speech. And in September, the GOP presidential nominee had to contend with polls showing President Obama ahead, as well as the fallout from those “47%” comments. So with the final full month of the presidential race beginning today -- and with early voting already underway in key battleground states -- Romney needs a great October to turn around this race. And it begins with Wednesday night’s presidential debate in Colorado. 

Slideshow: Mitt Romney's life in politics

Candidates Obama and Romney were both quick to lower expectations for their upcoming debate in Denver, Colo. – the first of three potentially game-changing face-offs. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

*** Christie raises the bar for Romney, Obama lowers it for himself: On the Sunday shows yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) didn’t try to lower debate expectations for Romney. Instead, he promised a game-changer. “I am telling you, David, come Thursday morning, the entire narrative of this race is going to change,” Christie told NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet the Press.” More Christie: “Wednesday night's the restart of this campaign. And I think you're going to see those numbers start to move right back in the other direction.” (In fairness to Christie, he was pretty much saying what everyone thinks is true -- Romney NEEDS something big to change this race.) White House senior adviser David Plouffe, who followed Christie on “Meet,” responded this way: “If it's going to fundamentally change, that means in seven or 10 days from now, you'll see states like Ohio tied, states like Iowa tied, because that's what really matters here. So they've set the bar quite high.” And while Christie raised expectations for Romney, Obama lowered them for himself during a campaign rally in Las Vegas last night. “Gov. Romney, he's a good debater.  I'm just OK,” Obama said, per NBC’s Shawna Thomas. “But what I'm most concerned about is having a serious discussion about what we need to do to keep the country growing and restore security for hardworking Americans.” Let’s face facts: Romney can’t simply fight to a draw. He needs to rattle the president; he needs to rally his own base; and he needs to hope he re-inserts the questions swing voters have had about the president.

*** Romney hits Obama on Libya, Middle East: If you write a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Libya and the Middle East just two days before the first presidential debate -- which is supposed to be on the economy -- chances are that you’re signaling that you want the issue to be raised on Wednesday night. “Disturbing developments are sweeping across the greater Middle East. In Syria, tens of thousands of innocent people have been slaughtered. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power, and the country's peace treaty with Israel hangs in the balance. In Libya, our ambassador was murdered in a terrorist attack,” Romney writes. “These developments are not, as President Obama says, mere ‘bumps in the road.’ They are major issues that put our security at risk. Yet amid this upheaval, our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. We're not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies.” Politico reports that Romney advisers are divided -- do you continue to go after Obama on Libya, or do you keep it about the economy? Yet if you spent five minutes re-watching Plouffe struggle dealing with these questions on “Meet the Press” then you realize it’s too rich of a debate target NOT to bring up.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd explains why this month could change the course of the Romney campaign.

*** Administration fully changes its tune on the Libya attack: One of the reasons why Romney might want to talk about Libya at Wednesday’s debate and not the upcoming ones is that the Obama administration is now fully calling the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Libya an organized terrorist attack. In a statement on Friday -- news dump time! -- Director of National Intelligence head James Clapper said in a statement that “American intelligence agencies ‘revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists,’” the New York Times noted over the weekend. Why the change from a couple of weeks ago, when UN Ambassador Susan Rice was telling folks that the attack -- according to information they had at the time -- wasn’t premeditated? On “Meet” yesterday, Plouffe answered that the intelligence had changed. “Obviously, you're going to know more two weeks after an event than a week after an event. And Ambassador Rice, that was the information from the intelligence community. It was the same information provided for Congress.”

Slideshow: Obama's fourth year in office

*** Ryan on the math behind Romney’s tax plan: “It would take me too long to go through all of that”: Also yesterday, Paul Ryan was asked by FOX’s Chris Wallace to do the math how he and Mitt Romney would pay for their tax cuts. Ryan’s answer: “Well, I don't have the -- it would take me too long to go through all of that. But let me say it this way: You can lower tax rates by 20% across the board by closing loopholes and still have preferences for the middle class for things like charitable deductions, for home purchases, for health care.” Saying that it would take too long to go through the math only feeds into a terrible narrative for Romney and Ryan: The math really doesn’t add up. And so if the Romney camp is smelling blood on Libya and the Middle East as we head into Wednesday’s debate, the same is probably true for the Obama camp when it comes to Romney’s tax plan. Romney has two fundamental hurdles he has yet to clear with persuadable voters: How are his plans different from the Bush years? And what are the details of those plans?

*** Polling update: Nationally, a Washington Post-ABC poll shows Obama leading Romney by two points among likely voters, 49-47%, but up by 11 points in swing states, 52-41%. And a Politico/GW poll also has Obama up 49-47% among likely voters. In the states, the Des Moines Register’s latest survey of Iowa finds Obama ahead by four points, 49%-45%. And in Ohio, a Columbus Dispatch poll has Obama up 51-42%.

Reuters, Getty Images

In the final push in the 2012 presidential election, candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama make their last appeals to voters.

*** On the trail: Romney holds a rally in Denver at 9:15 pm ET… Paul Ryan has a campaign event in Dubuque, IA at 7:50 pm ET… And Ann Romney stumps in Henderson, NV, where President Obama is doing his debate prep.

*** Today’s back-and-forth: Ahead of Wednesday’s debate, the RNC is up with “Obama’s Broken Debate Promises,” and the DNC has a web video trying to increase debate expectations for the Romney camp. The DNC also is bracketing Ryan’s stop in Iowa with a bus tour.

*** Boston Globe poll shows Warren leading Brown: Finally, in Lowell, MA beginning at 7:00 pm ET, NBC’s David Gregory moderates a debate between Sen. Scott Brown (R) and Elizabeth Warren (D). The debate comes as a new Boston Globe poll shows Warren ahead of Brown, 43%-38% -- “a shift from the Globe’s last poll in May, when Brown held a 2-point lead. But the race remains within either candidate’s grasp, with 18 percent of voters still undecided, said Andrew E. Smith, the Globe’s pollster and the director of the University of New Hampshire ­Survey Center.” 

Countdown to 1st presidential debate: 2 days
Countdown to VP debate: 10 days
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 15 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 21 days
Countdown to Election Day: 36 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