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First Thoughts: Battleground blitz

With 13 days until the election, President Obama tried to fortify his support in Ohio and Florida; meanwhile, Mitt Romney is distancing himself from Indiana senate candidate Richard Mourdock after he made controversial comments about rape and abortion. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

Obama and Romney embark on battleground blitz… First Read’s Electoral College scenario of the day: How Obama could get to 270 without Ohio… Mourdock pulls an Akin?... Why Mourdock could matter to Romney… Obama and that second-term agenda… Des Moines Register editorial chides Obama’s off-the-record conversation… And Quinnipiac poll shows McMahon trailing by six in Connecticut.

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney crisscross the country Wednesday, with a new urgency – though the campaigns are still fighting over a slice of undecided voters. The Daily Rundown’s Chuck Todd reports.

*** Battleground blitz: If you want to know where the presidential campaign is being fought, just look at all the candidate travel. Yesterday, President Obama hit Florida and Ohio. And today, beginning his whirlwind tour on Air Force One, he heads to Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada. Meanwhile, Romney yesterday was in Nevada and Colorado. And today, he returns to Nevada before heading to Iowa. And all of this occurring with 13 days until Election Day (a little over 300 hours until the first polls close, but who’s counting). By the way, as we mentioned earlier, NBC’s Brian Williams will be accompanying Obama on his battleground-state blitz.

"There is a fairly legitimate path for the president to win without Ohio," NBC News' Chuck Todd tells the Morning Joe panel this morning in discussing the last-minute grab both Obama and Romney are making for the swing states.

*** Electoral College scenario of the day: Between now and election day, we’re going to delve into the various scenarios which are semi-realistic. Today’s: Obama could still lose Ohio and get to 270 electoral votes, and the path is not a nutty path. He does it by winning Wisconsin (a state that hasn’t gone GOP since 84), Iowa (a state Gore carried), New Hampshire (a state Kerry carried), and Colorado. That gets him to 272. Sorta stunning that with all of our focus on FL-OH-VA that they all three could get rendered meaningless by the Rodney Dangerfield of the battleground: Colorado. And this is why, despite some national polls showing Romney either tied or slightly ahead, the narrative has never held that Obama is behind – due to all of his different paths to 270.  And isn’t it inevitable that it’s a NEW state that keeps us up, not an old one? In the last three presidential campaign cycles, we in the media have looked backwards at an old battle for a swing state, and it ends up being a new state that becomes THE story. In 2000, it was Florida (which no one believed before October). In 2004, it was Ohio (again, no one believed it until October). In 2008, it was Virginia (which ended up reflecting the national vote). So why not Colorado in 2012? And keep an eye on Maine, too: The pro-Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future is up with a TV ad in the state trying to win the state’s one EV in the 2nd congressional district.

*** Mourdock pulls an Akin? This isn’t a story the Romney campaign wants to see just 13 days before Election Day. Just days after Romney endorsed and cut a TV ad for Richard Mourdock, the GOP nominee in Indiana’s competitive Senate contest, Mourdock walked into controversy on rape and abortion. Describing his opposition to abortion – even in cases of rape – Mourdock said at a debate: "I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." Despite that recent endorsement, the Romney campaign distanced itself from Mourdock’s remarks. "Gov. Romney disagrees with Richard Mourdock's comments, and they do not reflect his views." And even Mourdock walked back what he said at the debate. "God creates life, and that was my point,” he said in a statement. “God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that He does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick."

*** Why Mourdock could matter to Romney: Even though the Romney camp quickly distanced itself from Mourdock’s remarks, the story could matter to Romney. Why? Because just as Romney is trying to move to the middle -- on domestic policy, foreign policy, and social issues -- the Mourdock story is a reminder how the conservative bent of this Republican Party has been a drag on Romney. While Romney’s fav/unfav inched up in our latest NBC/WSJ poll to 43%-44%, the GOP’s own fav/unfav is at 36%-43% (compared with the Democratic Party’s 42%-40% score). It’s been the under-reported story of this campaign. So this becomes a fundamental question for Romney: Can he win over voters in the middle, even if these same folks have reservations about the party he now leads? Consider how the party will react if Romney loses; they’ll blame him for all sorts of things. But if Romney loses, it’ll likely be because Obama over-performed with Hispanics and women. Will that be Romney’s fault, or will blame lie with the perception of the party?

*** Obama and a second-term agenda: And here’s a fundamental question for Obama: How does he convince the public he has a second-term agenda with less than less than two weeks before election day? Yesterday, the campaign unveiled a new booklet outlining that agenda, and Obama held it up as he campaigned yesterday. (A little hiccup: Per NBC’s Ali Weinberg, the booklets, as of yesterday, had arrived only in Florida, where Obama was yesterday. They were not available at his Ohio rally!!) Here’s the irony in all of this discussion about Obama’s second-term agenda: He definitely has one;  in fact, it was the subject of most of his convention speech in Charlotte (100,000 new teachers, investment in infrastructure, tax breaks to families that create U.S. jobs, tax cuts to middle-class families, balanced deficit reduction). But because much of his campaign has been oriented to hitting Romney, there is the impression that Obama doesn’t have a second-term agenda. And that is something the Obama camp is trying to fix. But it’s clear the Obama campaign didn’t expect Romney to fix his image as fast as he did with that first debate because the pivot by the campaign from disqualifying Romney to re-qualifying Obama has been, um, sluggish.

*** Des Moines Register chides Obama’s off-the-record conversation: Meanwhile, the editor of the Des Moines Register, NBC’s Carrie Dann flags, wrote an editorial about a private, off-the-record phone conversation Obama had with the editor and publisher -- in an effort to win the paper’s endorsement. In the editorial, the editor chides Team Obama for not making the conversation on the record. “The conference call lasted nearly 30 minutes and was an incredibly informative exchange of questions, answers and an insightful glimpse into the president’s vision for a second term… Just two weeks before Election Day, the discussion, I believe, would have been valuable to all voters, but especially those in Iowa and around the country who have yet to decide between the incumbent Democrat and his Republican opponent.”  The paper makes its endorsement on Saturday night.

*** On the trail: Obama campaigns in Davenport, IA at 11:10 am ET, in Denver, CO at 4:55 pm ET, and Las Vegas at 12:35 am ET… Romney stumps in Reno, NV at 2:45 pm ET and in Cedar Rapids, IA at 8:00 pm ET… Biden hits Marion, OH… Ryan makes a stop in Cleveland, OH… And Ann Romney visits Florida.

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Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama speak in Ohio, Sept. 26, 2012.

*** Down the ballot: Meanwhile, looking down the ballot, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Chris Murphy leading Linda McMahon in Connecticut by six points among likely voters, 49%-43%... And Politico writes that the pro-Senate Democrat Super PAC Majority PAC is going up in Indiana, Nevada, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania. Yes, Pennsylvania, that’s right; Casey in more trouble than perhaps folks realized? The Republican there is a self-funder and has been relentless.

Countdown to Election Day: 13 days

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