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First Thoughts: Examining Ohio's key counties (and margins)

Examining Ohio’s key counties (and winning/losing margins)… Obama yesterday: “What we have right now is a lead that we’ve maintained”… Romney yesterday: “We are going to win”… Powell -- again -- backs Obama… The Mourdock story continues… New NBC/WSJ/Marist polls (of Colorado and Nevada) come out at 6:30 pm ET (Update: They're here)… Obama stumps in Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, while Romney spends his whole day in the Buckeye State… And it’s also debate night in the Buckeye State: Brown vs. Mandel.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports on President Barack Obama's final push to net early voters and break the dead heat in the campaign.

CINCINNATI, Ohio -- With Mitt Romney, President Obama, and even part of your First Read team all here in the Buckeye State today, we take an in-depth look at the key Ohio counties to watch on Election Day. If this race will all come down to Ohio -- as many think it will -- be sure to save these numbers for Nov. 6:

Slideshow: Twin sons of different parties 

Cuyahoga (Cleveland): 2004: Kerry 448,503 vs. Bush 221,600 (+226,903); 2008: Obama 458,422 vs. McCain 199,880 (+258,542)
Franklin (Columbus): 2004: Kerry 285,801 vs. Bush 237,253 (+48,548); 2008: Obama 334,709 vs. McCain 218,486 (+116,223)
Hamilton (Cincinnati): 2004: Bush 222,616 vs. Kerry 199,679 (+22,937); 2008: Obama 225,213 vs. McCain 195,530 (+29,683)
Lucas (Toledo): 2004 Kerry 132,715 vs. Bush 87,160 (+45,555); 2008: Obama 142,852 vs. McCain 73,706 (+69,146)

Slideshow: On the Trail

Both Bush and Obama received 51% of the vote in Ohio in 2004 and 2008. The one TRUE swing county is Hamilton, which both men won. But just as important are the margins. Note that Obama won the Democratic-leaning Cuyahoga and Lucas counties by wider margins than Kerry did, while Bush was able to minimize his losses in these two counties. So for the president, it’s about winning his counties by 2008 margins; for Romney, it’s about losing them by 2004 margins. What made Obama’s victory margins so impressive in 2008: There were fewer voters in Cuyahoga and Lucas. It’s a big reminder that for the Democrats, Ohio defies gravity for them. In just about every other swing state, the president is counting on NEW voters, population GROWTH (particularly among Hispanics) for instance. Ohio is a state that is getting older and smaller; does it also mean it gets whiter? On paper, it should be a state that actually moves away from the Democrats over the next few years, just like Missouri, and yet, it hasn’t.

In an NBC News exclusive, Rock Center host Brian Williams travels with President Obama for two days on the campaign trail, attending rallies throughout the country as Election Day looms.

*** Obama: “What we have right now is a lead that we’ve maintained”: NBC’s Brian Williams yesterday was able to interview Obama on the first leg of his 48-hour swing across the country (which took him to Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada). Obama on the state of the race: “I think that, you know, we always knew this was gonna be a close race from the start. And what we have right now is a lead that we've maintained throughout this campaign. And we are gonna just continue to drive home the message that there are two fundamentally different choices in this election about where we take the country.” Obama on the new pamphlet laying out his second-term agenda: “This is exactly what I laid out at my convention.  Every point that's in there is what we said when I accepted the Democratic nomination… And it's been on our website for weeks.” And the president on his relationship with Romney:  “I think if you look at George Bush and John Kerry or George Bush and Al Gore or first President Bush and Bill Clinton, I don't think-- anybody would say that while you were in the middle of a campaign that you felt deep affection for the other guy.”

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

A young girl listens as President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio Oct. 23, 2012.

*** Romney: “We are going to win”: Meanwhile, that “other guy” -- Mitt Romney -- campaigned yesterday in Nevada and Iowa. Here’s a dispatch from NBC’s Garrett Haake covering Romney in Cedar Rapids: "This is a defining election – defining for the nation but also defining for your family," Romney told a crowd of some 2,300 supporters there. "I say that because it will make a difference, this election will. A difference for the nation, a difference for the families of the nation and a difference for your own family." More Romney: "We are going to win, by the way." Romney’s tone is all about the soft sell to suburban women. And his advertising of late is matching the tone we’re hearing from him on the trail. It’s clear, Boston knows the difference between winning and losing is making sure the gender gap is small. If they are going to get crushed among Hispanics (the Post/ABC tracking had POTUS hitting 75%!!! with Latinos yesterday), then Romney has to pick up ground somewhere.

As Mitt Romney embarks on a campaign blitz in key battleground states, Clint Eastwood is promoting the GOP candidate in a new Super Pac ad. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

*** Powell -- again -- backs Obama: On CBS this morning, Colin Powell endorsed Obama. The endorsement isn’t a surprise – after all, Powell backed Obama in ’08 – but it would have been a blow to Obama had Powell picked Romney this time around (or even decided against endorsing). The AP: “Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a longtime Republican, is sticking with President Barack Obama in this year's election. He tells ‘CBS This Morning’ he respects Mitt Romney but thinks he's been vague on many issues. Speaking of Obama, Powell said the president got the United States out of Iraq and has laid out a plan for leaving Afghanistan ‘and didn't get us into any new wars.’ He praises Obama's economic performance, saying that while difficult choices are ahead on taxes, spending and budgetary policies, ‘steadily, I think we've begun to come out of the dive and we're gaining attitude.’”

*** The Mourdock story continues: Why do presidential candidates do late-night TV? One reason, as we saw with Obama going on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” last night, is that it allows the candidate to take advantage of news of the day -- like Richard Mourdock’s comments on rape and abortion. Said Obama: “Let me make a very simple proposition, rape is rape. It is a crime. So these various distinctions about rape don't make very much sense to me… The second thing this underscores though this is why you don't want a bunch of politicians, mostly male making decisions about women's health care decisions.” Again, the Mourdock story couldn’t have come at a worse time for Romney and the GOP, and Obama extended the story with his comments on Leno. The Obama camp also is up with a web video linking Mourdock to Romney and Paul Ryan. But the real potential blow to Mourdock (and thus the GOP’s chances of winning back the Senate)? John McCain’s endorsement is now up in the air. “John McCain, R-Arizona, said on CNN on Wednesday that his support for Richard Mourdock was dependent on an apology from the Republican Senate candidate for his remarks that pregnancies caused by rape are intended by God.”

*** New NBC/WSJ/Marist polls! We are unveiling new NBC/WSJ/Marist polls of Colorado and Nevada today at 6:30 pm ET. (Update: They're here)

*** On the trail: Obama begins his day with a rally in Tampa, FL at 9:20 am ET, then hits Richmond, VA at 12:50 pm ET, votes in Chicago, and then concludes his day with an event in Cleveland, OH at 8:55 pm ET… Romney spends his day in Ohio, visiting Cincinnati at 11:00 am ET, Worthington at 3:10 pm, and in Defiance at 7:35 pm… Biden heads to South Dakota to attend prayer services for George McGovern… And Ryan stumps in Virginia.

*** Debate night: Brown vs. Mandel: By the way, part of your First Read team is in Cincinnati, where NBC’s Chuck Todd moderates a Senate debate between Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) and Josh Mandel (R) that begins at 7:00 pm ET. If you live in Ohio, you can watch on your NBC station.

Countdown to Election Day: 12 days

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