Discuss as:

First Thoughts: The pressure is on

Setting the stage for tomorrow’s VP debate: The pressure is on… Biden’s challenge vs. Ryan’s challenge… Today’s main event: Issa’s hearing on the attack in Libya… Romney’s statement on abortion… New NBC/WSJ/Marist polls of FL, OH, and VA to come out tomorrow morning… Team Obama’s tactical ad-buying advantage over Team Romney… This week’s 10 hottest advertising markets… And Obama’s new TV ad combining “47%” and Medicare.

Susan Walsh / AP

Vice President Joseph Biden speaks at the Mine Resistance Ambush Protected Program transition ceremony, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012.

*** The pressure is on: While vice-presidential debates typically don't have much bearing on the presidential contest, tomorrow night's Joe Biden-vs.-Paul Ryan showdown has put pressure on both sides. Team Obama NEEDS a strong performance from Biden to make up for last week and change the subject; another bad outing by a member of the ticket and the Democratic handwringing could turn into a full-fledged panic. Meanwhile, Team Romney needs a solid outing from Ryan to keep up the momentum. As we wrote last week, consider tomorrow night Game 2 of a baseball playoff series. After ace Romney beat ace Obama in Game 1, Democrats are looking for their No. 2 starter, Biden, to even the score. And Republicans are looking to go 2-0. That's what at stake Thursday, and that's why there's more pressure on Biden than on Ryan.

Robert Gibbs, a top adviser to the Obama campaign, spoke to TODAY's Matt Lauer about the latest Big Bird ad and how the campaign hopes to slow Mitt Romney's momentum with the race tightening in Ohio according to some polls, since the first debate.

*** Biden’s challenge: Yet despite the pressure, anyone who watched Biden during the 2008 Democratic primary debates might consider him the favorite going into tomorrow night. Yes, he's susceptible to gaffes. Yes, he’s prone to hyperbole and verbal tics (“literally” he is). And yes, he hasn’t had much practice with TV interviews in the past few months (an Obama campaign OVER-correction from the gay-marriage news). But Biden is also a strong debater. And he has the same thing going for him that benefitted Dick Cheney against John Edwards eight years ago: gravitas. You might disagree with him on the issues, but Biden knows A LOT about national security and foreign affairs, about domestic policy, and about the judiciary. He’s the elder statesman facing off against a young (but also smart) opponent. Yet this is also a challenge for him. With the Obama campaign promising -- and with Democratic partisans hoping for -- an aggressive Biden, the vice president has to walk a fine line between being aggressive but also keeping that gravitas. That’s his challenge tomorrow night.

As both presidential candidates stump in Ohio, Mitt Romney made an apparent shift on abortion, which was pounced upon by President Obama's campaign. Meanwhile, the tug of war over Big Bird has ruffled feathers with the nonprofit behind Sesame Street. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

*** Ryan’s challenge: Meanwhile, Paul Ryan’s challenge is potentially more daunting: He has to defend BOTH his record and also Mitt Romney’s. And as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, Ryan’s record and budget plan have diverged from Romney’s. Examples: While Romney has criticized the health-care law’s $716 billion in Medicare savings, Ryan’s own budget assumes those same savings; while Romney maintained at last week’s debate that “I’m not going to cut education funding,” Ryan’s budget leads to long-term spending reductions in education; while Romney opposed the auto bailout, Ryan voted for it; while Romney has hit Obama for the looming defense cuts, Ryan voted for the Budget Control Act of 2011 that contains them; and while Romney has blasted Obama for not embracing Simpson-Bowles, Ryan voted against the Simpson-Bowles recommendations. Also, Romney certainly lowered debate expectations for his running mate yesterday, when he told CNN: “This is, I think, Paul's first debate. I may be wrong. He may have done something in high school, I don't know.” Did Romney really say “high school”? Not exactly the best way to help the young Ryan look presidential (or vice-presidential).

Top Talkers: President Obama is leading Mitt Romney in Ohio, but Romney has closed the gap somewhat, a new CNN/ORC poll shows. The Morning Joe panel – including Donny Deutsch, the Huffington Post's Sam Stein and Mike Barnicle – discusses the tightening of the polls just four weeks before the election.

*** Issa’s hearing on Libya: So the vice-presidential debate is tomorrow’s big political story. But what is shaping up to be today’s is Darrell Issa’s House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. How concerned is the Obama administration about today’s hearing, which starts at noon ET? Concerned enough that the State Department -- after weeks of near-silence -- yesterday gave a tick-tock of what happened in Libya, and that tick-tock doesn’t even remotely match what UN Ambassador Susan Rice said in the days after the attack (that it was sparked by that anti-Islam video and that it wasn’t premeditated). Of course, the Obama administration has since revised its story, and it’s better to be late than never. But there’s no doubt that today’s hearing is going to be – at the very least -- a headache for the White House. An example: Today’s Washington Post report on the State Department concluding, back in July, “that the risk of violence to diplomats and other Americans in Libya was high and that the weak U.S.-backed government in Tripoli could do little about it.” Just askin’, but where is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? Why isn’t the administration sending her out to help explain what happened? Isn’t this her turf? Also, did the intelligence community really let Susan Rice go out FIVE DAYS after the attack and say what she said? They didn’t know FIVE DAYS LATER that there was not a single protest at all in Benghazi?

*** Romney’s statement on abortion: Speaking of headaches, this could be one for Mitt Romney. In an interview yesterday with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board, Romney said: “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” That statement could very well surprise many of his conservative supporters. And Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul emailed this response to National Review: “Gov. Romney would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.” Saul gave this other statement to NBC News: "Mitt Romney is proudly pro-life, and he will be a pro-life president." We imagine that conservative commentators will be biting their tongues over Romney’s statement to the Des Moines Register. But it’s pretty remarkable – in today’s day and age – for a GOP presidential nominee to say there’s no abortion-related legislation that would become part of his agenda. By the way, you know Romney’s doing well when social conservatives bite their collective tongue.

*** New NBC/WSJ/Marist polls of FL, OH, VA: Just how big was Romney’s bounce after the debate? And did it continue beyond the immediate days afterward? We’ll be releasing new NBC/WSJ/Marist polls tomorrow morning that will give us a good answer. Before last week’s debate, we measured the contests of Florida (where it was Obama 47% Romney 46%), Ohio (Obama 51% Romney 43%), and Virginia (Obama 48% Romney 46%). Well, after the debate, we went back into the field in those same three states. Stay tuned for the results.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) responds to the recent Big Bird ad released by the Obama campaign saying it's a fun thing to talk about, but ultimately, it reveals the economy is still in bad shape and the president can't run on his record.

*** Team Obama’s tactical advantage over Team Romney: If Obama ends up winning the presidential contest, it could very well come down to this: Team Obama has a tactical advantage over Team Romney, and that’s especially true when it comes to advertising strategy. Politico has this example: “Voters in Columbus, Ohio, saw 30-second television ads for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney while watching ‘Wheel of Fortune’ on their CBS affiliate over three days in September. For Obama’s team, the order per spot cost $500. For Romney’s, the price tag on the order was more than five times steeper at $2,800 per ad.” What’s going on here? Politico explains, “Romney places his commercials on a week-to-week basis, rather than booking time well in advance, and typically pays more so that his ads don’t get preempted and to spare his campaign the hassle of haggling over time as prices rise.” Folks, this is the equivalent of an NFL team -- in terms of tactics and ad-buying strategy -- going up against a high school team. And here’s another example we’ve heard: For weeks, the Obama campaign has been hammering Romney on the “Big 10 Network.” Only until recently has the Romney campaign also decided to advertise on the channel, about five weeks AFTER the start of football season. In a close race, the little things matter.

*** This week’s 10 hottest markets: And by the way, here are this week’s 10 hottest advertising markets in the presidential contest (in terms of advertising points from Oct. 8-14):

1. Orlando, FL (Obama/1600, Romney/1600, ROF/775, Priorities/630, ROF/215)
2. Norfolk VA (Romney/1500, Obama/1300, ROF/1200, Priorities/350, NRA/300)
3. Cleveland, OH (Romney/1500, Obama/1500, AmCrossroads/1200, Priorities/400)
4. Denver, CO (Romney/1500, Obama/1500, AmCrossroads/1200, Priorities/300)
5. Toledo, OH (Romney/1500, Obama/1500, AmCrossroads/1100, Priorities/300, NRA/250)
6. Des Moines, IA (Romney/1500, Obama/1300, ROF/1000, Priorities/350, American Future Fund/360)
7. Roanoke, VA (Romney/1500, ROF/1500, Obama/750, Priorities/300, NRA/400)
8. Cedar Rapids, IA (Romney/1500, Obama/1300, ROF/780, American Future Fund/415, Priorities/400)
9. Green Bay, WI (Romney/1500, ROF/1500, Obama/500, Priorities/500, NRA/400)
10. Tampa, FL (Romney/1,500, Obama/1500, ROF/675, NRA/250)

*** Combing with “47%” and Medicare: And speaking of ads, the Obama campaign is out with a new TV spot that combines Romney’s “47%” remark with the Ryan budget plan for Medicare. The ad concludes, “You’re no victim. You earned your benefits. Don’t let Mitt Romney take them away.”

*** Polling update: Latest polls: Gallup switched its tracking poll to likely voters and now has Romney leading 49-47%. Among registered voters, Obama leads 49-46%. In the states: OH: CNN/ORC has Obama up 51-47% among likely voters and up 53-43% among registered voters; NH: WMUR/University of New Hampshire has Obama up 47-41%, but Obama lead has shrunk from 15 points in the poll 10 days ago; PA: Siena has Obama up 43-40%.

*** On the trail: Romney spends another day in Ohio, hitting a town hall (with Chris Christie) in Mt. Vernon at 11:35 am ET, a restaurant visit in Delaware at 2:25 pm, and a rally in Sidney at 6:45 pm.

Countdown to VP debate: 1 day
Countdown to 2nd presidential debate: 6 days
Countdown to 3rd presidential debate: 12 days
Countdown to Election Day: 27 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