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First Thoughts: The campaign goes on - sort of

As Sandy begins hitting the East Coast, the campaign goes on -- sort of… Making three larger points about Sandy… Who benefits from a freeze in the campaign?.... A Jeep-load of controversy… And not all newspaper endorsements are equal. 

There are eight days before election day, but there may be even fewer campaign days left as Hurricane Sandy causes problems with campaign travel. NBC's Chuck Todd reports on the changes to both candidates' plans.

*** The campaign goes on -- sort of: With Sandy already beginning to hit the East Coast, our October Surprise has arrived, producing plenty of uncertainty in this presidential election with just eight days to go. (How does this impact the campaign? Does it halt Romney’s perceived momentum? Does it complicate the Obama campaign’s early-vote strategy, especially in Virginia? Or does it give Obama a chance to look presidential?) Despite the uncertainty, the campaign must go on -- well, sort of. So while President Obama canceled both of his scheduled trips today with Bill Clinton, the former president campaigns solo in Florida and with Vice President Biden in Youngstown, OH. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney stays out of the storm’s path and hits the three states that, if he loses them, would give Obama more than 270 electoral votes -- Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin. And Paul Ryan stumps in Florida, while First Lady Michelle Obama hits Iowa.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports with the latest.

*** Three larger points to make about Sandy: But there are three larger points to make about Sandy: One, you’re not going to see the candidates campaign in Virginia or New Hampshire for the rest of theweek and perhaps for the rest of the campaign. (They can’t bring their motorcades and Secret Service protection to these areas.) Two, three days from this campaign are essentially going to be erased. (Yes, Romney is hitting three battleground states of Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin. And Bill Clinton and Biden are stumping in Florida and Ohio. But how much coverage is that going to receive?) And three, if you’re the president, you do your job. That’s probably why you saw the president -- who landed in Florida yesterday -- decide to return immediately to the White House today. The only unforced error a campaign can make during this storm is acting TOO political. And the Obama campaign erased their unforced error without having today’s awkward campaign event play out on TV potentially. The person in the real bind right now is Romney. What does he do that doesn’t look overly-political or insensitive? He has no specific job right now.

*** Who benefits from a freeze in the campaign? You can also argue that any freeze in the campaign benefits Obama. Why? Because it stops any PERCEPTION of Romney’s momentum. Now, the Obama campaign argued on Friday to NBC News that talk about Romney’s momentum has been overblown the past couple of weeks, since Romney hasn’t made up more ground in the battleground states since mid-October. "His momentum narrative does have an impact on how people view the race on the ground in the states," an Obama campaign official said, per NBC’s Mike O’Brien. "And we wanted to correct it." What is going on here? The fact is, there is momentum -- it’s just not apparent as much (if at all) in the battleground states. We are seeing momentum in what we’d call the fringe states -- that’s why Romney has shot up in the national polls, and why states like Minnesota and Pennsylvania are suddenly a bit closer. But little has budged in the battleground states. Yet here’s the simplest reason for why this freeze in the campaign hurts Romney. Instead of every news organization in the country covering his campaign like this, “Mitt Romney took his message of change to X, while Barack Obama took his message of don’t go backwards to Y,” the lead for the next three days will be the storm and fallout from it. And the president will be more legitimately involved in that story than Romney -- simply because the president runs the government, period.

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

President Barack Obama asks a question during a briefing about Hurricane Sandy, as it threatens the East Coast, at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) headquarters in Washington, Oct. 28, 2012.

*** Cancellations and adjustments: Although the campaign still goes on, there also were plenty of cancellations and adjustments. In addition to skipping his Orlando and Youngstown event, Obama cancelled tomorrow’s planned stops in Virginia and Colorado. Romney nixed Sunday’s activity in Virginia, and he also cancelled a planned New Hampshire stop of Tuesday. Furthermore, the Romney camp announced yesterday, per NBC’s Alex Moe and Garrett Haake, that it would stop sending fundraising appeals to those in states that will likely be affected -- North Carolina, Virginia, Washington DC, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. And the Obama camp announced that it will be doing the same. (Noticeably, the one state NOT included on this list is New York, which is such an important fundraising hub for both campaigns.) 

*** A Jeep-load of controversy: How concerned is the Romney campaign about Ohio? And how concerned is it about the auto-bailout issue? The answer: Concerned enough that it’s airing a TV ad in the state that has created a truckload -- or Jeep-load -- of controversy, pushing the credibility envelope to another level. "Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job," the ad goes. The ad is misleading because Chrysler is simply building Jeeps in China the same way Toyota builds cars in the U.S. TheDetroit News: “Chrysler previously built Jeeps in China — and the move would not be unusual. Ford Motor Co. builds Ford vehicles in China for Chinese buyers and General Motors Co. builds Buicks in China for local consumers. The new 30-second ad doesn't repeat a false claim Romney referenced Thursday night in a speech in Ohio that the Auburn Hills automaker plans to shift all Jeep output from the United States to China — including vehicles built for U.S. consumers.” In fact, Chrysler had to release a statement “flatly denying it has any plans to move Jeep output to China from the United States,” the Detroit News adds. The fact that the Romney ad forced Chrysler to put out a statement may have invited more trouble for the Romney campaign than they intended. 

*** Not all endorsements are equal: On Saturday and Sunday, our inboxes were full of campaign emails announcing newspaper endorsements for either Obama or Romney. But not all endorsements are equal: A paper that backed Obama in ’08 and is doing so again isn’t all that surprising. Ditto a paper that supported McCain four years ago and is now endorsing Romney. But a paper that switches sides -- like the Des Moines Register, which backed Obama in ’08 and announced it was endorsing Romney this election -- is news. And the Des Moines Register’s endorsement is definitely a shot in the arm for Romney, who NEEDS to win the state. It’s a validator that Romney needs to have in the state that launched Obama in ’08. Iowa is as important (if not MORE important) to the Romney 270 math. All that said, one can’t help but wonder if the newspaper’s decision to publish an editorial criticizing Obama’s off-the-record conversation with the paper’s editor and publisher (which they agreed to take) was a hint as to where they were leaning. Bottom line: There was a lot of drama about this endorsement before it ever went public.

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: Bill Clinton stumps in Orlando, FL at 10:00 am ET… Then Biden campaigns in Youngstown, OH with Clinton at 5:20 pm ET… Romney hits Avon Lake, OH at 11:50 am ET, in Davenport, IA at 4:10 pm ET, and in West Allis, WI at 8:40 pm ET… Paul Ryan is in Florida… And Michelle Obama is Iowa City, IA and Sioux City, IA.

Countdown to Election Day: 8 days

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