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Blog Home Page --> October 2008

NC: Dole Trails In 3

A Civitas Institute poll, conducted 10/27-29 by TelOpinion Research, surveyed 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Senator Elizabeth Dole, Democratic state Senator Kay Hagan and Libertarian Christopher Cole were tested.

(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Hagan......45 / 69 / 12 / 44 (+1 from last, 10/20)
Dole.......43 / 19 / 78 / 41 (+2)
Cole....... 5 / 3 / 5 / 8 (+1)

A CNN/Time/Opinion Research poll surveyed 937 registered voters 10/23-28 for a margin of error of +/- 3.2%. Subsample of 667 likely voters, margin of error +/- 3.8%.

(RVs / LVs)
Hagan......48 / 53
Dole.......47 / 44

An Allstate/National Journal poll conducted by Financial Dynamics surveyed 402 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%.


No polls have been taken since Dole launched her ad implying Hagan is an atheist, but the Democrat has led in every poll we've seen since the middle of September. Even Republicans watching the race think Dole is finished.

Obama To Advertise In AZ

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe announced on a conference call this morning that the Democrat will begin running new advertisements in Arizona, North Dakota and Georgia. "We've seen movement in both North Dakota and Arizona," Plouffe said.

The decision to spend money in John McCain's home state comes just days after the Republican started running defensive robo-calls aimed at shoring up what several polls showed was a shrinking lead. The latest RCP Average shows McCain leading in Arizona by 5.2 points.

Obama's campaign will launch their positive closing ad, "Something," in the Copper State.

Strategy Memo: Place Your Bets

Good Friday morning. With just hours left before polls close, join Politics Nation for special Strategy Memos this weekend, and tune in to C-SPAN at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday for our last look at House and Senate contests. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- With four and a half days to go until polls close across the country, both campaigns are making their final preparations and focusing on their last priorities. The choices each has made will have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the election, and both choices have been remarkably telling. Remember Dick Cheney spending valuable campaign time in Hawaii in 2004? Recall President Bush's last-minute visit to New Jersey, a state he lost by seven points. Or Al Gore's decision to stay out of Tennessee in the final week, a state that could have given him the White House. The last week matters, and both candidates have cast the dice this time on their final strategies.

-- Barack Obama's last four days will be spent like his previous several weeks as he tours red states long seen as bastions of Republicanism. Obama will stump for votes in Indiana, Nevada, Colorado and Missouri over the weekend, followed by last-minute stops in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia on Monday. Obama is in Democratic-leaning Iowa today, but that's for what aides call a valedictory lap, the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny writes. Florida will be the key focus, with Joe Biden spending part of his weekend and key Democratic surrogates barnstorming around the state.

-- Meanwhile, John McCain is spending today in Ohio before heading to New Hampshire and Virginia this weekend. For Monday, McCain will do a fly-around to six different states before voting begins. But McCain has made another strategic decision that could change the outcome of this year's election. McCain and the Republican National Committee will pour their last resources into television advertisements in key states, a choice that limits the GOP's ability to fund key ground game operations. While President Bush's 72-hour program cost millions and paid more dividends than that, McCain's operations will be nowhere near the size or scale of those four years ago, the Washington Post's Matthew Mosk writes.

-- The decision to focus on television ads will only bring McCain to parity with Obama in most battleground states, places where Obama has been swamping the Republican on television for weeks. Cutting back on turnout programs could have a dramatic impact on places like Florida, where turnout operations have already given Obama a 60%-40% lead among those who have voted early, Time's Tim Padgett reports. As Obama banks votes like other Democrats haven't done in the past, McCain is going to need help getting his voters to the polls, and the decision to focus instead on television ads that haven't moved many numbers yet could wind up being a critical judgment.

-- But money has been the story all year. Despite a recent Federal Election Commission report that shows Republican committees actually raising more than their Democratic counterparts (Thanks almost entirely to the RNC's $336 million raised), Democrats simply have more in the bank down the stretch. While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is finally showing signs it will limit its spending, cutting off a top recruit in Missouri's Sixth District, their GOP counterpart has pulled out in all but a handful of top races. In the Northeast, where Republicans own just a handful of seats (We're including New York), Democrats are seriously targeting at least five seats, while Republicans have their eyes on just one, the New York Times' Raymond Hernandez writes. That ratio is symptomatic of the GOP's condition around the country.

-- Meanwhile, the stories about Obama's potential transition keep cropping up, this time in the Financial Times. Obama has reached an agreement with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to speed his nominees through the confirmation process and has reached out to conservative Blue Dog Democrats about spending issues. Obama has even reached out to Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic conference chairman, to inquire as to his interest in serving as White House chief of staff, the Associated Press reported last night. Non-denial denials aside, some close to Obama are still placing bets on former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, a long-time Obama backer, the Tribune's Christi Parsons writes.

-- On the other side of the aisle, some in John McCain's camp have been more focused on ensuring they're out of the way when the blame game starts. A popular target will be Sarah Palin, the vice presidential nominee who brought the party to its feet and cut off independent voters at the knees. A New York Times/CBS poll shows 59% of voters do not see Palin as qualified for the job, Cooper and Sussman write, and for weeks rumors of divisions even at the highest levels of the campaign have seeped out. If Palin wants a political future of her own, she will need to give as good as she's getting. Watch for the long knives to come out even before the polls are closing.

-- Sport Of The Day: Barack Obama and John McCain will find themselves grilled by the same interviewer Monday night, half a day before the polls open, when they have to answer to ESPN's Chris Berman during the Monday Night Football matchup between the Steelers and the Redskins. But the NFL, which earlier this year thought about getting involved in politics, is still sitting on $265,000 in PAC money, none of which has gone to candidates, the Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins notes. Both the Steelers and the Redskins have contributed to the PAC. The NFL is currently trying to fend off lawmaker requests that it make Thursday night games available to the larger public and not just those who have the NFL Network.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain has stops planned in Hanoverton, Steubenville, New Philadelphia and Columbus, Ohio today. Obama starts his day in Des Moines before heading to Highland, Indiana this evening. Palin is on the trail this morning in Latrobe and York, Pennsylvania, while Biden hits his home state in Newark, Delaware before heading to Kettering and Lima, Ohio.

MN: Coleman's Comeback

After a backlash against his negative advertising threatened his re-election prospects, Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman has mounted a comeback of sorts, pulling back into the lead in recent polls and garnering tons of positive editorial ink.

The latest poll, conducted for NBC by Mason-Dixon, surveyed 625 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Coleman, satirist Al Franken and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley were tested.

General Election Matchup

Barkley, as always, is the X factor. More Democratic voters are abandoning Franken to vote for Barkley than Republicans are leaving Coleman behind, the poll shows.

Even so, Coleman's new lead is a dramatic reversal from earlier this month, when polls showed him spiraling downward. After pledging to end all negative advertising from his own campaign, the Republican won endorsements from some of the state's largest newspapers, including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Rochester Post-Bulletin and, in the surprise of the cycle so far, the liberal Minneapolis Star-Tribune (The "Strib," to locals). A recent strong debate performance for Coleman also won him rave reviews.

Democrats contend Coleman's pledge to end negative ads is hollow as the NRSC continues to hammer Franken as "angry" and unfit to serve in the Senate. But Franken's numbers have unquestionably sunk in relation to Coleman's; the Democrat last led a poll eight days ago.

LA: Landrieu +1?

Democrats aren't sweating Senator Mary Landrieu's chances of winning re-election, but a new internal poll for State Treasurer John Kennedy should give Republicans extra incentive to keep pouring resources into Louisiana.

The OnMessage Inc. poll, conducted 10/27-29 for Kennedy's campaign, surveyed 900 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 3.3%. Landrieu and Kennedy were tested.

General Election Matchup

The numbers are a big improvement for Kennedy over recent polls that show Landrieu with a much bigger lead, including a Southeastern Louisiana University poll earlier this week that showed the Democrat leading by 19 points.

Kennedy's campaign credits a new NRSC advertisement that paints Landrieu as a rubber stamp for Barack Obama (The two senators vote together 81% of the time, according to the ad), as well as popular Governor Bobby Jindal's involvement in the race on Kennedy's behalf. Here's the NRSC's new ad, which says she's "not only corrupt, Landrieu is liberal" (We're left wondering which we're supposed to feel is worse):

Strategy Memo: Overconfident?

Good Thursday morning. We were rooting for the Tampa Bay Rays, but if the Phillies had to win, we're glad it came at home. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- Even before the World Series came on, Barack Obama's thirty-minute advertisement reached millions of viewers on seven networks, including three broadcast nets, focusing on economic and biographical messages, the Wall Street Journal's Susan Davis writes. Featuring appearances from big-name politicos to five supposedly regular families, the event ended with a live rally in which Obama made his final case. Without mentioning President Bush or John McCain, Obama focused his closing argument on his call for change and the potential for a happy ending, the Washington Post's Tom Shales writes.

-- That's what this election is about, and why, when the polls close on Tuesday night, Obama's poll numbers will be a lot closer to his actual vote total than McCain's. That is, Obama has less room to grow among independent and undecided voters than McCain does, and for the simple reason that the Obama campaign has decided to make this election about their candidate. Perhaps that's a function of the historic nature of his candidacy, but with all the focus on Obama, it makes him the de facto incumbent, and that means voters aren't deciding between he and John McCain, they're deciding whether they want Obama or not.

-- That's both a good thing and a bad thing for a campaign. Running as an incumbent, one must defend a record, and though Obama has a smaller legislative record, his statements are more subject to scrutiny than McCain's. On the other hand, it's good news for the Democrat because he has the ability, as he did not once but twice last night, to suck the oxygen out of the debate and to dominate the conversation. It's a delicate tightrope to walk, but with five days to go, Obama is in control of his own fate. For a presidential candidate, that's better than having to wait for the other guy to make a mistake.

-- Not content with dominating half an hour of television time, Obama spent last night rallying in Kissimmee, Florida at 11 p.m., joined for the first time by former President Bill Clinton, the Associated Press writes. Holding his first rally with a former president so late at night might strike some as odd, but the cable networks gave it roadblocked coverage and many local Florida networks cut live to the rally. Eleven o'clock is a great time for those watching the news, and Obama dominated one of the final newscasts before the election.

-- But are Democrats getting overly optimistic about an Obama win? With five full days of campaigning left before Election Day, some advisers are already starting to try to influence the new administration's legislative agenda, the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman writes. John McCain's advisers are also considering the transition, but Democrats are far more advanced in their planning for January. That's the kind of message that makes Democratic strategists -- the ones who saw Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry blow big leads late -- cringe and become incredibly supersticious.

-- Meanwhile, the mood isn't as good on the GOP side. When Sarah Palin burst onto the national political scene at the Republican convention, many thought she would have a future in GOP politics, win or lose. Asked by ABC News whether the daily political attacks would discourage her from entertaining a bid in 2012, Palin cracked and apparently admitted she's already thought that far ahead. "I think that, if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we've taken, that would bring this whole ... I'm not doing this for naught," Palin said. That's the kind of message that makes McCain HQ thump its head vigorously against the wall.

-- After two years of non-stop campaigning, it's hard to imagine there can be such a thing as an undecided voter. That could be why voters are lining up for four hours or more to cast early ballots. They're voting in grocery stores next to slot machines in Nevada, at drive-through ATM-like machines in California or just stand in line in any of the thirty-some states that allow early voting, the New York Times' Jennifer Steinhauer writes. In all, between 30-35% of votes are expected to be cast before Election Day.

-- Stat Of The Day: John McCain and the Republican National Committee have launched robo-calls in Arizona, a move designed to shore up support in the GOP nominee's home state after several public polls have showed him with only the smallest of leads. If McCain were to lose his home state, he would join Al Gore as the most recent nominee not to receive any favorite-son love. The last two Republican nominees not to win their home states, Wendell Willkie and Thomas Dewey, faced a Democratic incumbent in Franklin Roosevelt who also hailed from New York. For the last Republican to lose his home state all by himself, one has to look all the way back to 1936, when Governor Alf Landon lost Kansas by a 54%-46% margin, also to FDR.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is, perhaps appropriately, in Defiance, Ohio today for a rally before heading to Sandusky, Elyria and Mentor. Obama hits three battlegrounds today, stopping in Sarasota, Florida, Virginia Beach and Columbia, Missouri. Palin has rallies planned for Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Rush Limbaugh's hometown, before heading to Erie and Williamsport, Pennsylvania. And Joe Biden starts his day in Arnold, Missouri before rallying in Williamsport (a few hours before Palin gets there) and Allentown, Pennsylvania.

-- With Kyle Trygstad

McCain Up In AZ

Nervous about several recent polls that show Barack Obama competing in John McCain's home state, the Republican has launched a first round of robo-calls to Arizona voters, sources tell Politics Nation.

Several polls, both public and private, show McCain leading Obama, but within the margin of error, as we wrote for the Arizona Capitol Times. Arizona is the second-fastest growing state in the union, growing so fast that Governor Janet Napolitano estimates that a quarter of the state's voters have never seen McCain's name on a general election ballot, just four years after he was last elected to the Senate.

Still, to be so close in one's home state is not a good sign for any presidential candidate. Overall, McCain leads in the Copper State by just 5 points in the latest RCP Arizona Average.

Updated: The full text of the robo-call: "I'm calling for John McCain and the RNC because Barack Obama is so dangerously inexperienced, his running mate Joe Biden just said, he invites a major international crisis that he will be unprepared to handle alone.

"If Democrats win full control of government, they will want to give civil rights to terrorists and talk unconditionally to dictators and state sponsors of terror. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the experience and judgment to lead America. This call was paid for by the Republican National Committee and authorized by McCain-Palin 2008."

WA: Still Essentially Tied

A Strategic Vision poll tested 800 likely voters between 10/25-26 for a margin of error of +/- 3.5%. Governor Christine Gregoire was matched up against GOP ex-State Senator Dino Rossi.

General Election Matchup
Gregoire.......49 (+3 from last, 9/16)
Rossi..........47 (-1)

Neither candidate has been outside the margin of error in the four years Strategic Vision has been polling this race. That's the same as most national pollsters, as only two Evergreen State pollsters have shown significant leads for Gregoire. Republicans have long challenged both pollsters as weighting their polls unfairly toward Democrats.

NC: Gov Race Tied

An AP/GfK poll surveyed 601 likely voters 10/22-26 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. GOP Senator Elizabeth Dole, Democratic State Senator Kay Hagan and Libertarian Christopher Cole were tested in the Senate race. In the battle for governor, Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue, Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and Libertarian Michael Munger were tested.

General Election Matchup
Cole........ 2

Munger...... 4

Dole has been attacking Hagan for participating in a fundraiser which two prominent atheists attended, and Hagan is pushing back hard. A case of much ado about nothing, or could this sink one candidate for her associations or the other one for overreaching?

NH: Shaheen Lead Shrinking?

An AP/GfK poll surveyed 600 likely voters 10/22-26 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Senator John Sununu, Democratic ex-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen and Libertarian Ken Blevens were tested.

General Election Matchup
Blevens....... 3

A University of New Hampshire poll for WMUR surveyed 652 likely voters 10/25-27 for a margin of error of +/- 3.8%. Shaheen and Sununu were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Shaheen.......50 / 85 / 10 / 36 (+1 from last, 10/26)
Sununu........36 / 6 / 77 / 33 (-2)

A Public Opinion Strategies poll, conducted for the NRSC surveyed 525 likely voters between 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. Sununu, Shaheen and Blevens were tested.

General Election Matchup
Shaheen......46 (-1 from last, 10/19)
Sununu.......43 (+2)
Blevens...... 5 (no change)

Republicans think one of their most vulnerable incumbents could be making a comeback, though he still has work to do.

IN 03: Scaring Souder

"Our analysis last spring was that if we were talking about the 3rd CD in late October, there would be a national wave developing," Indiana political analyst Brian Howey wrote this week. Sure enough, three polls out of the Hoosier State show seven-term GOP Rep. Mark Souder in serious jeopardy of being swept out by a Democratic tsunami.

The Howey/Gauge Poll surveyed 300 likely voters between 10/23-24 for a margin of error of +/- 5.7% (Party ID: 39% Dem, 47% GOP, 14% independent and other). Souder, Democratic attorney Mike Montagano and Libertarian William Larsen were tested.

General Election Matchup
Larsen........... 5

Another independent poll, conducted by Research 2000 for WANE-TV, surveyed 600 likely voters 10/16-18 for a margin of error of +/- 4% (Party ID: 30% Dem, 33% GOP, 37% independent and other). Souder, Montagano and Larsen were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Souder.......45 / 7 / 82 / 43
Montagano....40 / 82 / 5 / 38
Larsen....... 4 / 1 / 4 / 6

And nothing shakes loose an internal poll than bad news in independent surveys. A Winston Group poll for Souder's campaign surveyed 400 registered voters 10/15-16 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9% (Party ID breakdown: 26% Dem, 39% GOP, 35% independents and others). Only Souder and Montagano were tested.

General Election Matchup

The three surveys do not give Souder a lot to brag about, as even his internal poll -- from two weeks ago -- shows him hovering at the crucial 50% mark. The Howey/Gauge survey shows just 35% say they would want to see Souder re-elected, while 50% say they want to elect someone new.

Still, the incumbent Republican isn't finished yet. A plurality of voters -- 42% -- see him favorably, whole 33% see him unfavorably, and the National Republican Congressional Committee is up with a new $189,000 advertising campaign.

But as is the case in most districts this year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is outspending Republicans, blasting Souder with a new $197,000 ad campaign. In total, the DCCC has spent almost double what the NRCC has spent in the Fort Wayne-based district, in the northeast part of the state.

The race could be as close as the presidential contest statewide. President Bush carried the district with 68% in 2004, eight points higher than his statewide performance, giving Souder hope that John McCain might drag him across the finish line.

Strategy Memo: Infotainment

Good Wednesday morning. The rain has stopped, so when do we get the final three and a half innings of baseball we were promised? Here's what Washington is watching today:

--Actually, tonight. For thirty minutes this evening, Barack Obama will own the airwaves on Fox, NBC and CBS, as well as Univision, BET, MSNBC and TV One, where his campaign will make a closing argument to millions of voters. At $1 million per channel for the half hour, Obama bumped several shows (including, as we like to joke, doing everyone a favor by keeping Jay Mohr off television for a night) in order to highlight those he has met on the trail, as well as a live component of a rally Obama will hold in Clearwater, Florida, the Washington Post writes.

-- The campaign handed a trailer of the thirty-minute broadcast over to the New York Times, which Jim Rutenberg found "heavy in strings, flags, presidential imagery and some Americana filmed by Davis Guggenheim," the son of RFK's presidential documentarian. The mix of straight-to-camera and pre-filmed interviews is a huge benefit for Obama, a debate without his opponent and a definable moment the Democrat has made for himself. Plus, for the political scientist in all of us, it comes early enough before the election that any effect, or lack thereof if it's a flop, will be measurable, perhaps as early as in Friday's tracking polls.

-- Obama is looking for the delicate balance between talking at people for thirty minutes and delivering an overly-produced gimmick, and it's a move not without risk, writes Politico's Jeanne Cummings. In other words, this is Obama's closing argument, but even closing arguments don't always seal the deal. Then again, Obama can still make some changes to the program. Two suggestions: Entertainment is always good, and we know Bruce Springsteen's done a few concerts for Obama before. And why not have some fun, put on a funny hat and imitate the Great Karnak? ("101 million," Karnak says. "What is, the number of families I plan to give tax cuts to, or the number of new donors I'll win over tonight?" Says sidekick Joe Biden, on the couch with a cup of coffee: "Hey-o, yes! You are correct, sir!")

-- Though Obama gets another crack at undecided voters, McCain isn't done yet. In fact, his chief pollster sees the race tightening. Public Opinion Strategies' Bill McInturff, in a memo the campaign released late yesterday, says the party is gaining among rural voters and Reagan Democrats in a significant way over the last week or so. Perhaps the most intriguing argument McInturff makes is that McCain has room to grow; Obama's already sky-high support among African Americans essentially takes them out of play -- there aren't any black voters who remain undecided. That means the block of those who haven't decided are largely white, voters among whom McCain will do well. The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes posts the whole memo.

-- But GOP candidates are still acting like McCain is in worse position than he claims. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels yesterday launched his final swing around the state as he seeks re-election himself, but he won't be in Jeffersonville, where Sarah Palin will hold a rally this evening, the Indianapolis Star's Mary Beth Schneider writes. Yesterday, McCain stopped in Fayetteville, North Carolina with 7,000 of his closest friends cheering him on, but Senator Elizabeth Dole wasn't one of them, Politico's Glenn Thrush writes. Dole's team said her bus tour around the state had already been set by the time McCain's rally was planned. Still, GOP candidates are going to need to embrace their presidential candidate or he truly will have no shot at the comeback.

-- Win or lose, McCain has already shaped the Republican Party, or at least the starting point for the conversation about what the GOP will look like in the future. In short, McCain has moved populist, telling CNBC yesterday that the government's top priority should be bailing out homeowners who have trouble with their mortgages. That populism is embodied in Sarah Palin, a social conservative more concerned with the everyman than with the party's business wing, and her future role in the party is a subject of intense conversations among conservatives, the New York Times' Zernike and Davey write. As Palin and McCain apparently grow apart, McCain's lasting legacy may be introducing the Alaska governor to the country. (How's this for growing apart: Palin will return to Alaska on Monday night to cast her vote in the state on Tuesday before heading back to Phoenix for the election night party, CNN reports.)

-- In other GOP news, realizing the dire straits in which they find themselves, the Republican National Committee is moving to shore up their Senate committee by taking out a $5 million line of credit for struggling GOP incumbents. The party gave the NRSC $2 million of that money while reserving $3 million for coordinated expenditures with those candidates, the Associated Press reports today. Party chair Mike Duncan pointed to Republican incumbents in Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon and North Carolina -- in other words, every vulnerable GOP incumbent except for Ted Stevens. Democrats will still have outspent the GOP by a wide margin, while reports suggest the DNC may be willing to follow suit with their own line of credit. Meanwhile, in a must-read, Stu Rothenberg wonders whether the National Republican Congressional Committee made the right funding choices.

-- Guest Of The Day: Finally, just under five months after Barack Obama secured his party's nomination for president, he will stand on stage tonight with his party's most recent president, the Orlando Sentinel's Jim Stratton writes. Obama and Bill Clinton will hold a late-night rally in Kissimmee, Florida this evening after the Illinois senator's half-hour of primetime television space. Hillary Clinton has made dozens of stops with Obama, including rallies in Unity, New Hampshire in June and in Florida last week, but her husband has been conspicuously absent. Now, Bill is back, and the visual of the two onstage will be heartwarming for Democrats everywhere.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is in Florida today for a rally in Miami, a national security roundtable in Tampa and a rally in Palm Beach before joining Larry King on CNN. Obama has a rally in Raleigh, then down to Florida a rally set for Sunrise during the half-hour infomercial and a late-night event with Clinton in Kissimmee. He also appears on the Daily Show this evening via satellite. Sarah Palin will give a policy speech this morning highlighting energy policy in Toledo before staging rallies in Bowling Green and Chillicothe, Ohio and in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Biden, meanwhile, is spending another day in Florida, with a stop in Jupiter before joining Obama for the rally in Sunrise.

PA 10: Carney's Big Mo

It's a Republican district, but Democrat Chris Carney may have found the right formula for keeping the district. A Lycoming College Polling Institute survey polled 441 likely voters between 10/19-23 for a margin of error of +/- 4.7%. Carney and Republican Chris Hackett were tested.

General Election Matchup
Carney........50 (+4 from last, 9/08)
Hackett.......35 (-1)

Hackett, who had to get through a nasty GOP primary for the right to face Carney, is seen in a net-negative light by voters, with 41% viewing him unfavorably and 35% viewing him favorably.

TX 22: GOP's Got Hope

Don't despair, Republicans! You still have a chance to pick up a seat, and we're not talking about Florida Rep. Tim Mahoney's district. A Zogby International poll for the Houston Chronicle surveyed 404 likely voters 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Rep. Nick Lampson and former Congressional aide Pete Olson were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Olson........53 / 4 / 88 / 39
Lampson...36 / 84 / 5 / 45

Lampson occupies Tom DeLay's old seat in the Houston suburbs and only barely won against a GOP write-in candidate with a hard-to-spell name. The Democrat's campaign put out his own poll yesterday showing him gaining ground, but he's still running in an overwhelmingly GOP area.

PA 03: English Sports A Lead

Rep. Phil English was at the head of the recent wave of newly-endangered incumbents, but a poll for his campaign shows him narrowly ahead. The Public Opinion Strategies poll surveyed 400 likely voters 10/22-23 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. English and Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper were tested.

General Election Matchup

The last poll we saw in the district showed Dahlkemper leading by seven points. If the truth is somewhere in between, English is still in trouble.

NH: Shaheen, Shea-Porter Lead

Like Colorado, the New Hampshire Senate race tightened this summer before breaking open for Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. A Boston Globe poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire surveyed 725 likely voters 10/18-22 for a margin of error of +/- 3.6%. Senator John Sununu and Shaheen were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Shaheen....49 / 81 / 10 / 45 (+1 from last, 9/08)
Sununu.....36 / 7 / 76 / 27 (-8)

Sununu's precipitous drop in the polls might be explained by his vote in favor of the Senate economic bailout plan, the same reason many believe Chambliss is now in trouble in Georgia. Sununu's New Hampshire colleague, Senator Judd Gregg, was Senate Republicans' lead negotiator on the bill.

The poll also tested Rep. Carol Shea-Porter against GOP ex-Rep. Jeb Bradley in the state's Manchester-based First District (358 LVs, +/- 5.2%) and Rep. Paul Hodes versus GOP radio host Jennifer Horn in the Nashua- and Concord-based Second District (349 LVs, +/- 5.2%).

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Shea-Porter....44 / 77 / 10 / 35 (+2 from last, 9/08)
Bradley........39 / 10 / 76 / 30 (-6)

Hodes..........51 / 80 / 12 / 43 (+13)
Horn...........25 / 7 / 57 / 12 (-1)

The September poll in Hodes' district looks like an anomaly in which pollsters didn't push leaners very hard. In the First District, the NRCC still sees Shea-Porter as a top target.

LA: Landrieu Rolling

Democrat Mary Landrieu will do something she's never done before: Avoid a runoff. A new Southeastern Louisiana University poll surveyed 503 registered voters 10/20-23 for a margin of error of +/- 4.5%. Landrieu and state Treasurer John Kennedy were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Landrieu...53 / 81 / 22 / 55
Kennedy....34 / 11 / 65 / 26

Landrieu is leading Kennedy in every region of the state, including by four points in the heavily Republican Cajun Triangle, where John McCain leads Barack Obama 55%-33%. Landrieu also trails Kennedy by just six points among white voters, a much smaller margin than that which a successful GOP candidate needs to win the state.

Okay, you caught us: Even if Kennedy makes a dramatic comeback, Landrieu will still avoid the runoff. Louisiana changed its rules and no longer holds runoffs if no candidate reaches 50%. For years, campaign staffers just off the trail in November could count on a free trip to Cajun country for December runoffs. Tragically, no more.

GA: Chambliss +6

Good news and bad news for Senator Saxby Chambliss: A new poll shows his lead at six points, higher than several earlier surveys, but the Republican is still well below 50%. The Mason-Dixon poll for NBC News surveyed 625 likely voters 10/22-23 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Chambliss, ex-state Rep. Jim Martin and Libertarian Allen Buckley were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Wht / Blk)
Chambliss...45 / 14 / 77 / 36 / 59 / 12
Martin......39 / 75 / 8 / 38 / 23 / 78
Buckley..... 5 / 2 / 4 / 12 / 6 / 1

Increasingly, it looks like Martin's chances of winning depend on a high African American turnout and a decent performance for Buckley, who has run several times before. But if no one gets to 50%, the top two finishers will head to a December runoff.

CO: Out Of Hand

Colorado Senate

After much hemming and hawing, the NRSC finally pulled out of Colorado last week, leaving ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer to fend for himself. A new poll for KCNC-TV and the Rocky Mountain News shows Schaffer may not be up to the task. The Public Opinion Strategies/RBI Strategies poll surveyed 500 likely voters 10/21-23 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Schaffer and Democratic Rep. Mark Udall were tested.

General Election Matchup

After a summer that saw the race tighten, Udall has slowly but steadily regained a lead that looks insurmountable a week before Election Day. The Democrat leads by 11.3 points in the latest RCP Average.

Strategy Memo: Baked Alaska

Good Tuesday morning. There is officially one week left before Election Day, and exhausted reporters and campaign staffers everywhere couldn't be more pleased. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- One of the most storied careers in the history of the Senate likely came to an end yesterday as Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was found guilty of seven felony charges of making false statements. The case, stemming from a renovation of Stevens' home by the oil services firm VECO Corp., took nearly a month to argue, and after a last-minute juror replacement, the jury slapped Stevens with guilty verdicts that could send him to prison for 35 years (He will face much less, if any, jail time). Several missteps by the Justice Department make an appeal all but certain, and Stevens maintained his innocence, The Hill's Manu Raju writes.

-- "I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights. I remain a candidate for the United States Senate. I will come home on Wednesday and ask for your vote," Stevens said in a statement released by his campaign late Monday. After trailing Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich virtually all year, recent polls showed Stevens making a comeback, to a point at which the latest RCP Average shows him just six tenths of a point behind. The conviction, though, virtually assures Begich a six-year term in the Senate and gives the VECO scandal, which has already engulfed half a dozen prominent Alaska politicians, new life.

-- The fallout has national implications, both politically and in the hallowed halls of the Senate, and Republicans aren't happy about any of them. The loss of Stevens' seat puts at five the number of Senate seats Republicans are almost assured of surrendering to Democrats, and already Democratic challengers in other seats are trying to tie their Republican opponents to Stevens the same way they tried to associate the GOP with Tom DeLay, Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Jack Abramoff and other scandal-plagued figures. While Stevens has no plans to resign from the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went as far as he could without actually calling for the body's senior Republican to step down. "Senator Stevens must now respect the outcome of the judicial process and the dignity of the United States Senate," Reid said in a statement.

-- Did Stevens' political troubles enter at all into John McCain's thought processes when he selected fellow Alaskan Sarah Palin as his running mate? Palin called yesterday "a sad day" during a stop in Richmond, Virginia yesterday, the Associated Press reports, while doing as much to distance herself from Stevens as possible. Palin has kept as much distance as possible from Stevens and again ignored questions yesterday about whether she would endorse, or even vote for, Stevens. But Alaska has its own political culture, and that culture has even snared Palin, to an extent. When McCain picked her, anyone who could read a newspaper knew the so-called Troopergate investigation still had to play out, making a Palin pick dangerous to begin with.

-- But firing a police commissioner is hardly Palin's only flaw, as even most Republicans will now admit, Adam Nagourney writes today. And though she has many benefits -- especially with a GOP base that was, until her selection, largely tuned out and unenthusiastic -- Palin is now becoming a drag on the ticket, McClatchy's David Lightman writes (Note that the Anchorage Daily News picked up that particular story). Palin's unfavorable ratings are higher than her favorable ratings, while a plurality of voters say McCain used "poor judgment" in picking her. For a candidate trying to use Barack Obama's lack of experience against him, choosing someone voters view as far more inexperienced seriously hurt McCain.

-- Palin has already exhibited signs that she's taking to the national campaign trail, though in moments McCain might wish hadn't happened. The potential vice president has publicly disagreed with campaign strategy (She wanted to stay and fight for Michigan) and tactics (She wanted to bring up Jeremiah Wright), frequently gone off message and formed her own camp within McCain's entourage. That faction of backers is already at war with McCain loyalists, ABC's George Stephanopolous writes, as both groups prepare to lay blame. That, Politico's Roger Simon speculates, is the beginning of Palin's own presidential run in 2012.

-- In non-Alaska news, things just keep looking up for Obama and getting more grim for McCain. Obama's lead in swing states continues to grow while Republicans are putting resources into states they haven't had to defend in decades. Yesterday we reported the RNC had shifted cash from Colorado to Indiana. Now the RNC has put ads into Montana and West Virginia, Marc Ambinder and Jonathan Martin write. And in perhaps the nightmare scenario for Republicans, party strategists in McCain's home state of Arizona are nervous that a Copper State upset is possible, I write in the Arizona Capitol Times.

-- Rift Of The Day: The GOP blame game is in full swing, and not to be outdone, Nevada Senator John Ensign wants it very clear that his National Republican Senatorial Committee isn't completely to blame for the party's impending loss of Senate seats. "There's no question the top of the ticket is affecting our Senate races and it's making it a lot more difficult," Ensign told MSNBC, per The Hill's Klaus Marre. Party leaders only throw their own candidates under the bus when they've come to inescapable conclusions, and Ensign, facing the possibility of a filibuster-proof Democratic majority after his two-year term at the NRSC's helm, appears to have reached that conclusion.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain and Palin start their day with a joint interview on CNBC before heading to rallies in Hershey and Quakertown, Pennsylvania. McCain later has a rally planned for Fayetteville, North Carolina, while Palin will be on her own before crowds in Shippensburg and University Park, Pennsylvania. Obama has rallies slated for Chester, Pennsylvania and the college town of Harrisonburg, Virginia before ending his day in Norfolk. And Joe Biden is in Florida for early vote rallies in Ocala and Melbourne.

Why Dems Love The Phils

Quote of the day, from this weekend's Politics Nation on XM Radio:

"If you're Senator Obama and you're making the case, as some of the people are, that this is the next revolutionary election since 1980, you'd be rooting for the Phillies, because the first and last time that they won the World Series was in 1980. So if you want to complete the circle of history, then the Democrats should be rooting for the Philadelphia Phillies."

-- Craig Shirley, GOP consultant.

Stevens Convicted

Today's seven-count felony conviction of Republican Senator Ted Stevens made him the fifth sitting senator ever to be convicted of a crime. Three of the previous four resigned their seats before being expelled, while the fourth died, according to the Senate Historical Office.

The Alaska Democratic Party has called for Stevens' resignation, though the six-term senator will likely be defeated for re-election before that happens. "Senator Stevens' felony convictions are very serious and he should immediately resign from the United States Senate," said Patti Higgins, the Alaska Democratic Party chair. "He knew what he was doing was wrong, but he did it anyway and lied to Alaskans about it. Alaskans deserve better from their public officials. It's time for us to elect an ethical and honest Senator who will move this state forward."

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich currently leads by six-tenths of a point in the RCP Average.

--Kyle Trygstad

IA 04: Latham (R) +4

While the campaign of Democrat Becky Greenwald is touting the release of this new poll, GOP Rep. Tom Latham has released its own internal poll showing the seven-term congressman up by 22 points. A Research 2000/DailyKos poll of 400 likely voters was conducted from 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Latham and Greenwald were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Latham (R)........47 / 12 / 83 / 49 / 51 / 43
Greenwald (D)...42 / 78 / 6 / 40 / 39 / 45

Democrats think they have an outside shot at Latham's northern Iowa district two years after the party picked up two GOP seats in the Hawkeye State. However, even in the Democratic year of 2006, Latham -- who goes on a 5-day, 28-county tour of the district before every election -- won easily with a 14-point win.

FL 25: M. Diaz-Balart (R) +3

Like his brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is facing the toughest election of his congressional career. A Research 2000/DailyKos poll of 400 likely voters was conducted 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Diaz-Balart and Joe Garcia, the former Miami-Dade Democratic Party chairman, were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
M. Diaz-Balart (R)...46 / 10 / 82 / 41 / 49 / 43
Garcia (D)..........43 / 86 / 7 / 42 / 39 / 47

Garcia has outraised Diaz-Balart in a few recent FEC reporting periods, but the incumbent Republican still had more than $800,000 on October 15, four times what his Democratic opponent had. By Oct. 15, Diaz-Balart had already spent double what he did in 2006.

FL 21: L. Diaz-Balart (R) +1

The economy is even impacting the vulnerability of incumbents like eight-term Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart in Miami-Dade County, who's used to comfortable re-elections. A Research 2000/Daily Kos poll of 400 likely voters was conducted 10/20-23 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Diaz-Balart and Ex-Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
L. Diaz-Balart (R)...45 / 10 / 83 / 44 / 48 / 42
Martinez (D).........44 / 81 / 5 / 43 / 43 / 45

Martinez is the latest target of a new NRCC ad as the party works with its limited resources to protect every incumbent it can. Democrats have already spent $550,000 for Martinez, who trails Diaz-Balart in cash-on-hand by a two-to-one margin.

FL 13: Buchanan (R) +9

While polls have indicated that this Sarasota-based district will likely give Barack Obama more support than John Kerry received, Rep. Vern Buchanan shouldn't be too worried. A Research 2000/DailyKos poll surveyed 400 likely voters from 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Buchanan and 2006 candidate Christine Jennings were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Buchanan (R)........45 / 12 / 71 / 42 (+2 from last, 9/25)
Jennings (D)...34 / 69 / 8 / 33 (+3)

In 2006, Buchanan won by just 369 votes. He looks like he'll win by a wider margin this time, so the many car dealerships he owns will have to go on without him for at least two more years.

CA 04: Brown (D) +6

After holding the ethically-challenged GOP Rep. John Doolittle to a 3-point win in 2006, retired Air Force officer Charlie Brown looks poised to win this district located in the Northeast corner of California. A Research 2000/DailyKos poll surveyed 400 likely voters from 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Brown and State Senator Tom McClintock were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Brown (D)....48 / 88 / 14 / 51 / 44 / 52 (+2 from last, 9/25)
McClintock (R)...42 / 7 / 74 / 34 / 47 / 37 (+1)

McClintock has been off television for a few weeks now, fueling speculation that his campaign is simply out of money and giving Brown an opportunity at a very Republican seat. The latest FEC reports show Brown with close to a four-to-one advantage in cash-on-hand.

AZ 03: Shadegg (R) +10

In an interview with a local newspaper editorial board last week, Rep. John Shadegg voiced doubt over John McCain's chances of winning the White House. Similarly, many in the GOP are wondering whether Shadegg will win his own race. A Research 2000/DailyKos poll surveyed 400 likely voters from 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Shadegg, attorney Bob Lord, and Libertarian candidate Michael Schoen were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Shadegg (R)...50 / 7 / 81 / 45 / 53 / 47 (+2 from last, 10/8)
Lord (D).......40 / 88 / 7 / 44 / 38 / 42 (+1)
Shoen (L).. 2 / 1 / 2 / 2 / 2 / 2 (no trend)

The DCCC has spent almost $1.5 million on the seat and some Arizona Republicans are concerned about Shadegg's future, but he's at the critical 50% mark and the Libertarian doesn't seem to be dragging him down. Win or lose, the seven-term congressman's vote percentage appears likely to dip below his previous low of 59% in 2006.

AL 02: Love (R) +2

The fact that third-term Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, a Democrat, is within two points in this southeastern Alabama district speaks volumes about what kind of year it is. Still, Bright's had Blue Dogs in to campaign for him, promising to be a voice independent of the Democratic Party in Congress. A Research 2000/DailyKos poll of 400 likely voters was conducted 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. State Rep. Jay Love and Bright were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Love (R).......47 / 7 / 74 / 45 / 51 / 43
Bright (D)...45 / 89 / 14 / 50 / 44 / 46

Internal polls conducted for both candidates show a tight race for retiring Rep. Terry Everett's open seat. This poll is further evidence of that, despite the heavy Republican lean of the district. Everett never won re-election with less than 63% of the vote.

TX 10: McCaul (R) +4

Minnesota's Al Franken is getting all the credit as the possible entertainer in the 111th Congress. But don't overlook Larry Joe Doherty, the Texas lawyer who used to host one of those courtroom reality shows. A DailyKos/Research 2000 poll surveyed 400 likely voters between 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Rep. Michael McCaul and Doherty were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
McCaul.........46 / 7 / 79 / 45 / 50 / 42
Doherty........42 / 84 / 6 / 44 / 39 / 45

McCaul has refused to debate Doherty so far and the Democrat has raised good money. But the district, which stretches from the Houston exurbs to the Austin suburbs, is a very Republican area.

WA 08: Tied Up

It's going to be one of the closest races in the nation, and the latest poll out of Washington's Eighth Congressional District reflects just that. A Research 2000/DailyKos poll surveyed 400 likely voters between 10/21-23 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Republican Rep. Dave Reichert and businesswoman Darcy Burner were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Reichert....46 / 12 / 88 / 45 / 49 / 43 (-3 from last, 10/7)
Burner......46 / 82 / 5 / 46 / 44 / 48 (+5)

Recent polls have showed Burner making a comeback after trailing Reichert for most of the year. But a flap over Burner's degree at Harvard as well as Reichert's reputation as a top-notch campaigner means the Republican isn't done yet.

SC 01: Brown +11

Yes, Democrats are having a good year. But it would take a real wave for the party to make inroads in Rep. Henry Brown's coastal First District. A DailyKos/Research 2000 poll surveyed 400 likely voters 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Brown and philanthropist Linda Ketner were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Brown.......48 / 8 / 82 / 46 / 52 / 44
Ketner.......37 / 78 / 4 / 36 / 35 / 39

Democrats have started pitching this race as a sleeper, and Ketner's shots at Brown over a forest fire have attracted attention. But Brown's is a very conservative district and he leads big among independents.

NJ 05: Garrett (R) +7

Add Rep. Scott Garrett to the list of Republicans in GOP-leaning districts who shouldn't face tough challenges but are in a difficult year. A Research 2000/DailyKos poll surveyed 400 likely voters 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Garrett and Rabbi Dennis Shulman were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Garrett......47 / 9 / 76 / 46 / 51 / 43 (-2 from last, 9/19)
Shulman....40 / 81 / 11 / 40 / 38 / 42 (+6)

Garrett is probably too conservative for his district, while Shulman is probably too liberal. In most years, that would benefit Garrett in this largely GOP district. This year, the race could be closer than anticipated.

NV 03: Titus (D) +2

State Senator Dina Titus remains one of Democrats' best prospects for knocking off a Republican incumbent, a new poll shows. The DailyKos/Research 2000 poll surveyed 400 likely voters between 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Rep. Jon Porter and Titus were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Titus.....47 / 82 / 7 / 48 / 43 / 51
Porter...45 / 8 / 87 / 47 / 51 / 39

The south Clark County district is the fastest-growing in the country, and Democrats have shown incredible voter registration gains there. It's not that Porter's done anything to get fired, it's just that he now faces many more Democrats than Republicans.

MO 09: Luetkemeyer +5

Open seats are why the GOP is dying a death of a thousand cuts. But the party has a good shot to keep at least Missouri's vacant Ninth District, as the Republican incumbent runs for governor. A DailyKos/Research 2000 poll surveyed 400 likely voters between 10/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Ex-state Tourism Director Blaine Luetkemeyer and Democratic state Rep. Judy Baker were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Blaine Luetkemeyer (R)...47 / 9 / 80 / 44 / 50 / 44 (-2 from last, 9/18)
Judy Baker (D)...........42 / 84 / 8 / 42 / 40 / 44 (+2)

Republican Luetkemeyer has consistently led polls in the seat left open by GOP Rep. Kenny Hulshof, who is an underdog in his race for governor. Still, if Hulshof drives turnout in his own district, Luetkemeyer could be the beneficiary.

MD 01: Harris (R) +4

Can Democrats win a heavily Republican Eastern Shore district with the help of the GOP congressman who's vacating the seat? A new Research 2000/DailyKos poll suggests they may be able to. The survey of 400 likely voters conducted 10/20-22 had a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. State Senator Andy Harris, the Republican, and Democratic Queen Anne County State's Attorney Frank Kratovil were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Andy Harris (R)......44 / 13 / 79 / 42 / 48 / 40
Frank Kratovil (D)...40 / 71 / 5 / 43 / 38 / 42

With backing from outgoing Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, Democrat Frank Kratovil has a shot to pick off a GOP seat. It helps that his base is on the Eastern Shore, while Harris' base is in Baltimore County, a smaller part of the district.

Strategy Memo: Closing Time

Good Monday morning. For what it's worth, both Reps. Joe Sestak (D-PA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA) told Politics Nation they were more interested in Saturday's Ohio State-Penn State matchup than they were in the World Series. It was a good day for both; the Nittany Lions and the Phillies got wins. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- With eight days to go before Election Day, Barack Obama maintains his big lead both in battleground states and nationally. Obama leads by 7.6 points in the latest RCP Average and has increased his lead to statistically significant margins in Colorado, Ohio and Virginia. Taking into account states in which one candidate leads by more than five points, Obama leads McCain by a whopping 306 electoral votes to 157, putting the Illinois senator on the brink of a major sweep.

-- Those three swing states in which Obama now leads are only half the story. The Democrat holds smaller leads in five of six states that remain in the tossup category, all of which are deeply red states. A source with knowledge of Republican ad strategy tells Politics Nation that the Republican National Committee has shifted its advertising dollars from Colorado to Indiana in order to avoid a complete rout; nevertheless, Obama leads in the Hoosier State by a small fraction of a point. That he's even close speaks volumes: President Bush won Indiana by 21 points in 2004.

-- It's not just Indiana that's turning a little bit blue lately. Thanks to a surge of African American voters, an excellent turnout operation and an overwhelming advantage in advertising dollars he's able to spend, Obama enters the final week of campaigning by spending all his time on Republican-held turf, the New York Times' Nagourney and Zeleny write. Though they will likely stay red, Republicans are even alarmed about normally solid South Carolina and Georgia, where black voters have turned out in huge numbers (Perhaps the person who should be most worried is Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss; a recent DailyKos/Research 2000 poll showed Chambliss up by just two points and trailing Democrat Jim Martin 86%-8% among African Americans. But that was when African Americans made up 27% of the electorate. Now, African Americans are making up more than a third of early voters).

-- Meanwhile, as both candidates focus largely on states President Bush won in 2004, McCain and Obama will be in Pennsylvania today to rally the troops. It could be another day of bad comparisons for McCain, who drew just about 1/30th the crowd Obama drew in a rally in New Mexico late last week (In fact, even Hillary Clinton, rallying in New Mexico the same day as McCain, drew twice what the Republican nominee did). Crowd size may not matter, as CBS's John Bentley writes, but when 100,000 people head to Denver to hear Obama speak over the weekend, Bloomberg's Chipman and Nichols write, it's hard not to take notice.

-- With eight days to go before Election Day, at least some undecided voters still need to hear a final closing argument from both candidates. Obama gives his early this afternoon at the Memorial Civic Center in Canton, Ohio, the Canton Repository reports. The speech is set to include fewer shots at McCain and more lofty and post-partisan goals. It's the final speech Obama will make as he travels around the country this week, and Mark Halperin has excerpts.

-- McCain is kicking off his own closing argument, centered largely around two Joes, writes Newsweek's Andrew Romano. One is Joe the Plumber, the average American who McCain says will see higher taxes under Obama (Incidentally, Joe is thinking about running for Congress in 2010). The other is Joe the Senator, Obama's running mate, who recently told donors Obama would be tested early in his tenure. McCain's final argument is that his rival is not ready on the international scene and will take the wrong policies on the national stage.

-- Don't think McCain is finished with his campaign just yet. Speaking to Tom Brokaw on NBC's Meet the Press 41 years to the day after his plane was shot down over Hanoi, McCain claimed his own internal polls show him performing much better and refused to accept the premise that he was running behind Obama. McCain's final week on the trail, writes Time's Jay Carney, depends on winning Pennsylvania, keeping his team's morale high (something he's had to do a few times this year) and plugging up internal staff leaks for eight more days.

-- Guest Of The Day: She's used to asking the questions, but this weekend, The View's Elisabeth Hasselbeck was Sarah Palin's guest on the campaign trail in Florida, as the Times' Julie Bosman reports from Tampa. Palin and Hasselbeck both took on the flap over major RNC expenditures for clothing for the vice presidential candidate. "Instead of the issues, they are focused, fixated on her wardrobe," Hasselbeck said in introducing Palin, drawing big cheers. She may not be Oprah, but Hasselbeck may be this year's biggest GOP winner, emerging as the most prominent conservative voice on a daytime television talk show.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain starts his day in Cleveland for an economic meeting before heading to rallies in Dayton, Ohio and Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Obama will deliver his closing argument first in Canton before heading to Pittsburgh for a major rally. Palin meets with the Israeli ambassador this morning before heading to rallies in Leesburg, Fredericksburg and Salem, Virginia, while Biden hits his own rally in Greenville, North Carolina. Michelle Obama will hang out with Jay Leno on NBC's Tonight Show this evening.

MN 06: Tink +2

Controversial comments have put Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann in electoral hot water, a new survey shows, as more than two in three voters in Minnesota's Sixth Congressional District say they disagree with her remarks.

The poll, conducted for the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute and Minnesota Public Radio by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut, surveyed 430 registered voters 10/21-23 for a margin of error of +/- 4.7%. Bachmann, Democratic ex-state Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg and Independence Party candidate Bob Anderson were tested. (Party ID breakdown: 42% Dem, 44% GOP, 14% Ind/Other)

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Tinklenberg......45 / 90 / 10 / 23
Bachmann.........43 / 3 / 79 / 51
Anderson......... 5 / 3 / 6 / 5


Almost 80% of respondents said they had heard Bachmann's comments, and more than a third of respondents said the remarks made them less likely to vote for the freshman Republican (8% said they were more likely to cast a ballot for Bachmann after hearing her statements). In the last two weeks of the campaign, that's made independents break heavily for Tinklenberg; those deciding on a candidate within the last week have chosen the Democrat by a 37-point margin.

Few races have changed faster than the Bachmann-Tinklenberg battle. Bachmann's non-apology ad is on the air, while Tinklenberg raised over $1.3 million in a week since the comments. Meanwhile, national Democrats launched a $482,000 ad buy while Republicans pulled funding from the district.

Ridge's Sour Grapes

Ex-Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge thinks John McCain needs to carry Pennsylvania to win the White House, and says he's the guy who could have helped, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"I think the dynamics would be different in Pennsylvania," Ridge told the paper. McCain "had several good choices and I was one of them."

Ridge hasn't run in Pennsylvania since he was re-elected in 1998, but as a moderate from the Pittsburgh area, he may have helped McCain exploit what looks like a natural divide between more culturally conservative voters and Barack Obama.

Ridge may be right, but it's hard to see how any vice presidential nominee could overcome the 10.7 points by which McCain trails in the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average.

Strategy Memo: The Whites Of Their Eyes

Good Friday morning. We'd wish a happy weekend, but we know a political animal's schedule eleven days before an election. Take solace in the fact that the World Series, knotted at 1 game a piece, will be fun to watch. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- John McCain entered October with $47 million in the bank, far behind Barack Obama. As the economic crisis deepens, voters' angst over their financial positions will only increase, putting pressure on McCain to somehow connect with voters all over again. Trailing in money, lacking in time with just eleven days left and lagging in polls, down 7.3 points according to the latest RCP Average, things are starting to look seriously bleak for the GOP ticket.

-- The GOP fingers are already being pointed, as those both in and outside the campaign start to blame each other for their present situation, Politico's Martin, Allen and Harris write. McCain's interview yesterday in the Washington Times in which he slammed the Bush Administration did not go over well with allies of President Bush and brought about a new round of criticism of the campaign as unfocused and off message. Within the campaign, current former top aides are putting their own best spin on recent history already as morale sinks to record lows.

-- Speaking of low morale, some House Republican strategists are starting to view the world in the same terms. Top Washington operatives are circulating a list of Republican-held House seats that are likely to fall to Democrats next year, and the list is long. Eleven GOP-held seats are effectively gone, while a total of thirty-four seats are listed as toss ups or leaning towards Democrats, Politico's Kraushaar and RCP's Wilson report. The National Republican Congressional Committee has pulled out of three seats and is set to drop spending in two more seats shortly.

-- Back to the presidential contest, and some new polling numbers show groups Obama was once supposed to have trouble with are falling into line to create a traditional winning Democratic formula. 1) Jewish voters, who were initially skeptical of Obama, according to myriad news reports, are back in the Democratic fold, favoring Obama by a 74%-22% margin, Gallup found. 2) Those supposedly racist voters John Murtha got in so much trouble talking about in Western Pennsylvania must not be so terribly against African Americans; McCain and Obama tie at 46% in Southwest Pennsylvania, and Obama leads by an 18-point margin, 54%-36%, in the Northwest, where Democrats have a good shot at picking up two Congressional seats as well as the state's electoral votes, per the latest Quinnipiac poll.

-- Why are voters flocking to Obama even when history and modern political strategy suggests they might hesitate to do so? James Carville should have trademarked his catchphrase: It's the economy (we'd finish the sentence, but we know Politics Nation readers are anything but stupid). And today is only going to drive more voters into Obama's arms: Dow Jones Industrial Average futures have tumbled so far in early morning action that trading has been suspended. Asian markets are down 10% or more, and today could prove one of the single worst days in recent months -- months that have already been filled with bad days.

-- The final Federal Election Commission reports are out this morning, and while Obama had an incredible September, raising a record $150 million, his pace slowed considerably in the first two weeks of October, writes the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn. Obama doled out $105 million during the same time, leaving him $66 million in the bank, along with $27 million in joint Obama-DNC funds. McCain, by contrast, was outspent two-to-one on ads and retained $25 million on hand through the October 15 deadline, while the RNC held $59 million in cash reserves.

-- But McCain isn't finished just yet, and those who count him out will tell you they've been stung before. The New York Times' Adam Nagourney writes up McCain's new path to victory: McCain is still in it in Ohio and Florida, and his sustained effort in Pennsylvania could help carry him to 270. Exploiting Joe Biden's comments that Obama will be tested by a foreign crisis as well as obama's own reaction to Joe the Plumber could help McCain get there, And don't forget the old maxim that younger voters just don't show up. If Obama's vaunted turnout operation slows, which it just might, McCain's path to a win gets much more obvious.

-- Deja Vu Of The Day: A Democratic president who talks a lot about hope wins election facing a troubled economy, American troops in Iraq and a Bush in the White House. 2008? We were thinking 1992. That year, like 2008, was an incredible year for women politicians, when four women made it to the U.S. Senate, effectively tripling the number of women in the upper chamber in one day. Again, 2008 has already been a great year for women, the Washington Post's Lois Romano writes. From Hillary Clinton to Sarah Palin, Senate candidates Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen and Kay Hagan and a host of women candidates for other offices, women will once again claim a larger role at the table after Election Day.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain has a rally scheduled for Denver before heading to Colorado Springs for an event with small business owners and to Durango for a late-night rally. Obama is in Hawaii visiting his sick grandmother, while running mate Joe Biden rallies in Charleston, West Virginia and Martinsville, Virginia. Meanwhile, in what could be the biggest news of the day going forward, Sarah Palin and husband Todd will sit down with Troopergate investigators at some point today. Also on Palin's schedule today: A policy speech in Pittsburgh, a rally in Springfield, Missouri and an appearance at a St. Louis Blues hockey game, where she'll drop the puck.

KY: McConnell +4

As the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launches its second ad against Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a new poll shows the Republican in a dead heat with his opponent.

The Research 2000 poll, conducted for the Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV, surveyed 600 likely voters between 10/19-20 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. The sample was made up of 46% Democrats, 38% Republicans and 16% independents and others. McConnell and Democratic businessman Bruce Lunsford were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
McConnell....47 / 15 / 87 / 46 / 51 / 43
Lunsford ....43 / 75 / 6 / 40 / 40 / 46

McConnell leads in five of the state's six Congressional districts, but Lunsford has a huge 17-point advantage in the Jefferson County-based Third District. The two candidates have about the same favorable ratings (48% favorable for McConnell and 47% for Lunsford) and about the same relatively high unfavorable rating (48% for McConnell, 45% for Lunsford).

The DSCC is still investing in the state, launching a new ad today that hits McConnell on his record on trade, which they say has cost several Kentucky counties hundreds of jobs:

Murtha Comments Lead To Tight Race

John Murtha's comments that some of his constituents would vote against Barack Obama because of long-held attitudes on race could hurt the Pennsylvania congressman's bid for re-election, a new Republican poll shows.

The Susquehanna Polling & Research survey, conducted 10/21 for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, polled 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Murtha and retired Army officer William Russell were tested.

General Election Matchup

Russell has long flown under the radar as a surprisingly well-funded Republican challenger. Through the end of the third quarter, he'd raised a stunning $2.5 million, though he has blown through all but $333,000 of it. Murtha had pulled in nearly $2.2 million and kept $500,000 on hand.

The one-day sample, conducted for the paper after Murtha's remarks (which came at a Tribune-Review editorial board meeting), doesn't mean Murtha is toast, but it does indicate at least a little blow-back. Aside from the Tribune-Review, Susquehanna largely conducts political polls for GOP clients.

Strategy Memo: Watch For Falling Rock

Good Thursday morning. Not to make too much fun, but did anyone notice that one of the Backstreet Boys is going bald? Tragic. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- All week, we've been talking about the dire straits in which John McCain finds himself. Trailing by 7.2 points in the latest RCP Average and running significantly behind in battleground states like Colorado, Ohio and Virginia, McCain needs something dramatic to happen to change the way this election is going to turn out. Ronald Reagan didn't jump ahead of Jimmy Carter for good until after their final debate, and that looks like what's happening now.

-- But the news gets worse for the GOP: Just as positive coattails can help a winning candidate's own party, the negative feeling voters have for the GOP is trickling down the ballot faster than Republicans can control. Now, the National Republican Congressional Committee is making hard spending decisions and is pulling ads from two districts where Democrats are in good position to win back GOP-held seats, including Colorado's Fourth District and Minnesota's Sixth District. And because of the committee's financial situation, more tough but realistic decisions could be on their way.

-- Taking a look at the national environment, for all their talk it's clear the NRCC knows what's going on. The Fix reports on the committee's almost entirely defensive ad buys, in which ten of the twelve districts they're spending in are held by Republicans. Just Louisiana's Sixth District and Pennsylvania's Eleventh District are targets of efforts to win back Democratic seats. With the DCCC spending in more than fifty districts -- and that number is expected to rise in the final twelve days -- Republicans are starting to face what may be an inevitable landslide for the second cycle in a row.

-- Meanwhile, US News' Paul Bedard reports on the NRCC's "death list," grouping Republican seats by likelihood of losing them. Ten seats are "likely gone," another nine are "leaning Democratic" and a total of 22 are toss-ups. That's 41 seats the party is panicking about, not including the fifteen that are leaning Republican but haven't quite become safe yet. GOP strategists will quietly admit to being prepared for major losses, and party bosses know it's coming too. The two questions for Republicans: How effectively, and brutally, can they make spending decisions? And how many seats will it take before the many young bucks who want the job openly declare their intent to run for Minority Leader, forcing John Boehner to step aside?

-- On the presidential campaign trail, John McCain looks increasingly on his own. As Barack Obama rolls up a huge financial advantage and seriously out-advertises the Republican, rumors of major third-party efforts on McCain's behalf are beginning to dry up, Politico's Jonathan Martin writes today. Whether it's the lack of conservative excitement for McCain, a feeling that anything they try might not actually work or a lack of resources, virtually every outside group that was supposed to be the next Swift Boaters has failed to live up to expectations.

-- McCain will have the campaign trail to himself for two days as Obama heads to Hawaii to be with a critically sick grandmother. That woman, Madelyn Dunham, played a central role in Obama's life, helping raise him and serving, as Michelle Obama often says, as one of two strong woman role models the Illinois senator had growing up. The LA Times takes a closer look at the woman who "gave him roots" and who is ill enough to have gathered family by her bedside.

-- Figure Of The Day: Back to the funding question for a minute. Third-party groups may be sitting out on the GOP side, and the economy may be in the tank, but overall, wallets are open like never before to fund political campaigns. The Center for Responsive Politics projects this year's election will cost somewhere on the order of $5.3 billion, about 25% higher than the cost of the 2004 election. USA Today reports that figure is less than what Americans will spend on Halloween, but it's almost two percent of the proposed second stimulus package being negotiated on Capitol Hill right now.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama has a rally planned for the American legion Mall in Indianapolis, the heart of a deeply red state that Democrats still think they can win. Later, he flies to Hawaii. McCain rallies in Ormond Beach and Sarasota, Florida, while running mate Sarah Palin has a rally planned for Troy, Ohio and Beaver, Pennsylvania. Democratic veep hopeful Joe Biden is in North Carolina for rallies at UNC and Wake Forest Universities, as well as Meredith College in Raleigh.

LA: Landrieu +20

Is the Louisiana Senate race already over, or still a tight contest? Internal polls for both parties suggest two very different answers. The latest Democratic poll, conducted for Senator Mary Landrieu by the Mellman Group, surveyed 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Landrieu, State Treasurer John Kennedy and Libertarian Richard Fontanesi were tested.

General Election Matchup
Fontanesi....... 3

The Landrieu survey comes five days after Kennedy released his own poll showing him down just five points. We're awaiting a credible independent poll.

FL 18: Ros-Lehtinen +7

Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo is closing the gap with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, according to a new poll for her campaign. But in the most Republican of three southern Florida Cuban-heavy districts, will it be enough? The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners, surveyed 457 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.6%. Ros-Lehtinen and Taddeo were tested.

General Election Matchup
Ros-Lehtinen.....48 (-10 from last, 6/08)
Taddeo...........41 (+14)

Taddeo remains solidly behind, but Ros-Lehtinen is below 50%, inviting at least a second look from national Democrats.

AK: Begich +1

A new Ivan Moore Research poll conducted for the Anchorage Press and the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman shows Senator Ted Stevens has no reason to give up just yet. The survey polled 500 likely voters between 10/17-19 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. In the Senate race, Stevens and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich were tested, while Rep. Don Young was tested against Democrat Ethan Berkowitz.

General Election Matchup
Begich.........46 (-3 from last, 10/6)
Stevens........45 (no change)

Berkowitz......51 (no change)
Young..........42 (+1)

Stevens' entire re-election prospects hinge on a Washington, D.C. jury's decision in his conspiracy trial. The jurors got the case today.

Strategy Memo: Rethinking Palin

Good Wednesday morning. Who you got in the World Series, which starts tonight? We're rooting for that one city with the team no one's heard of. You know what we're talking about. It's, oh, Tampa, right. Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The economy is in tatters, the military is engaged in two conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, unemployment is going to rise before it falls and millions live without health care. But the big buzz today surrounds Sarah Palin's clothing choices. The Republican National Committee has spent $150,000 on the potential vice president's wardrobe and jewelry, with stops at Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, among other expenses, reports Politico's Jeanne Cummings.

-- John McCain's campaign would much rather focus on the rest of the issues facing the country, according to a statement issued by spokesperson Tracey Schmitt. But Republicans, donors and even staff members are disgusted with the huge level of spending when every penny counts, The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports. If the McCain campaign isn't careful, attempts to blame this one on the media could blow up in their faces and cost the campaign some serious credibility, even among a donor base they still need to compete.

-- Eight weeks after she joined the ticket, it's becoming clear that Palin is not the big boost to McCain's campaign that she appeared to be in the beginning. In fact, two polls out this week suggest she's becoming a serious drag on the ticket instead. Palin's qualifications to be president are the top concern about McCain, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. That beats out concerns that McCain would continue President Bush's economic policies. And while McCain's avenues of attack lately have sought to portray Barack Obama as lacking judgment, more voters said McCain himself demonstrated poor judgment in the latest Pew Research Center survey, by a 41%-29% margin over those who thought Obama demonstrated poor judgment. Palin, the most obvious result of that judgment, is now a negative to all but McCain's hardest-core base.

-- So what happens four years after her first attempt at national office? The Fix thinks Palin's appearance on Saturday Night Live and her insistence that she would prosecute the campaign more aggessively and back a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage are all the first steps toward a potential bid of her own in 2012. The positives: Conservatives and base Republicans still love her. The negatives: Republican opinion-setters and pundits -- that's not an oxymoron -- are turning on her fast, beginning with former Reaganite Peggy Noonan and David Brooks. If the ticket loses this year, Palin may get an inordinate amount of the blame.

-- But McCain has bigger problems this morning than just a big credit card bill. The Republican's campaign is cutting advertising expenditures in five key states they once thought they could win, the New York Times' Jim Rutenberg writes. McCain is pulling down ads in blue states New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maine (where just the Second District was targeted) and in Colorado, which has been a reliably GOP state in recent years. The campaign is halving advertising in each state in order to free up additional money for advertising in Florida and in Indiana, another indication that Obama has succeeded in expanding the playing field.

-- Indiana?!? That's one of those states McCain can't lose and still win the presidency. McCain's entire strategy has been geared toward picking up electoral votes in the Rust Belt, and having pulled out of Michigan and now the rest of the Upper Midwest, he's down to Indiana and Pennsylvania. Plenty of Democrats, from John Murtha to Ed Rendell and everyone between, have warned -- inartfully -- that Obama might not do well in the western part of the state, where Reagan Democrats live. And that's exactly who the McCain campaign is targeting, the Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes writes. If they're successful, McCain has a shot at the White House. But they'll have to get over an eleven-point deficit to do so.

-- Meanwhile, Democratic ballots are far outpacing Republican ballots in early voting around the nation, the Times' Luo and Nixon write. Democrats have a big lead in Iowa, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada and Ohio, while Republicans have an advantage in Florida. Absentee ballots have historically favored Republicans, while Election Day results tend to be more favorable to Democrats. With up to a third of all voters casting early ballots, Democrats banking those votes now is a good way to boost one's own results come Election Night. That excitement voters have been telling pollsters about is real, too: Some voters waited as long as five hours in Florida, while 13% of Georgia registered voters have already cast ballots.

-- And Obama can afford an expensive ground game that gets people to the polls before Election Day. Instead of a 72-hour program that the Republican National Committee has run, Obama's has already begun, taking people in those key states to the polls to bank every possible vote. How can he afford it? Thanks to the same big donors who bankroll other Democratic campaigns, the Post's Mosk and Cohen write. Big donors who had maxed out to Obama ($4,600) and to the DNC ($28,500) can also donate to the Committee for Change, which will pay for those ground operations at a state party level. McCain has a similar joint fundraising program, but by all accounts his ground organization is inferior to Obama's.

-- GOP Strategy Of The Day: Shut up! That needs to be the title of a memo destined for every congressional Republican who has the urge to open his or her mouth over the next two weeks. First, Michele Bachmann suggests members of Congress ought to be investigated for anti-American views. Then North Carolina Rep. Robin Hayes said "Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God" during a rally in Concord, North Carolina. Now, New York Rep. Randy Kuhl is on camera telling a local television station that the Democratic majority "wants the American public to suffer and to hurt," The Hill's Aaron Blake reports. The loose lips are making some GOP strategists pretty nervous.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain kicks off his day with a rally in Goffstown, New Hampshire before heading to Ohio for joint rallies with Palin in Green and Cincinnati. Tonight, the GOP ticket will sit for an interview with NBC's Brian Williams. Obama will rally in Richmond and Leesburg, Virginia, while running mate Joe Biden has his second day of events set for Colorado, with stops in Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

NC: Hagan +3

Democrats are still looking good in the Tar Heel State, according to a new Civitas Institute poll, as the governor candidate pulls back into a tie with her GOP foe. The poll, conducted 10/18-20 by TelOpinion Research, surveyed 600 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.2%. In the Senate race, Elizabeth Dole, Democrat Kay Hagan and Libertarian Chris Cole were tested, while Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue, Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and Libertarian Michael Munger were tested in the governor's race.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Hagan......44 / 70 / 11 / 39 (-1 from last, 10/8)
Dole.......41 / 17 / 76 / 36 (-1)
Cole....... 4 / 3 / 3 / 4 (+1)

McCrory....43 / 22 / 75 / 38 (no change)
Perdue.....43 / 69 / 10 / 38 (+2)
Munger..... 2 / 1 / 3 / 4 (no change)

Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state, and if Barack Obama drives seriously increased turnout, Dole and McCrory could have trouble surviving.

MN: Franken +3

It's a repeat of the story we've heard for the last few weeks: Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman trails his Democratic opponent by a narrow margin, and thanks to a third-party candidate, no one reaches even 40%.

A Minneapolis Star Tribune poll conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates surveyed 1,049 likely voters between 10/16-17 for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Coleman, Democrat Al Franken and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley were tested.

General Election Matchup
Franken.........39 (-4 from last, 10/2)
Coleman.........36 (+2)
Barkley.........18 (no change)

Coleman has bounced back a little since the last poll, taken just after the dramatic stock market slide and just before Coleman took down the negative ads that might have been costing him support. But he's still got more bouncing to do.

IL 10: Kirk +6

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk is winning newspaper endorsements and leading in most polls we've seen. Now, he's up in a Democratic survey. The Bennett Petts & Normington poll for Progress Illinois surveyed 400 likely voters 10/15-16 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Kirk and 2006 nominee Dan Seals were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Kirk.....47 / 15 / 92 / 44 / 49 / 45
Seals....41 / 71 / 3 / 37 / 39 / 43


Kirk has a good job approval rating of 49% excellent or good and just 38% fair or poor. And though Obama looks like he'll win big in the northern suburban district, Kirk's 50% favorable rating and just 21% unfavorable rating could help him survive.

NH 01, 02: Dems Lead

Two freshman Democrats lead their races for re-election, according to a new independent poll. The Research 2000 poll conducted for the Concord Monitor surveyed 300 likely voters in both New Hampshire's First and Second Districts between 10/17-19 for margins of error of +/- 5.7%. In the First District, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter was tested against GOP ex-Rep. Jeb Bradley. The Second District matchup pitted Rep. Paul Hodes against radio host Jennifer Horn.

General Election Matchups
Shea-Porter.........48 (+4 from last, 9/24)
Bradley.............43 (no change)

Hodes...............49 (+2)
Horn................35 (+1)

Hodes looks largely safe, but don't count out Bradley. Other public polls have shown him close to or leading Shea-Porter.

GA: Chambliss +4

Yes, Senator Chambliss, you really do have a race. A Democracy Corps poll, conducted by Democratic firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, surveyed 600 likely voters 10/16-19 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin were tested.

General Election Matchup

Chambliss' job ratings aren't stellar. Just 39% say he's doing an excellent or good job, while 43% call his job performance "just fair" or poor.

But it may be an intensely local issue that saves the senator: At a recent debate, Martin said he didn't favor deepening the Savannah Harbor Channel by six feet, which local officials said could put hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk. Though Martin later said he hadn't understood the issue, Chambliss has already jumped on the misstatement and criticized his Democratic opponent.

Strategy Memo: Long And Winding Road

Good Tuesday morning. We still can't get over the $150 million Barack Obama raised last month. What if he were to just pull down his ads and bail out Wachovia instead? He'd guarantee a win in North Carolina, for sure. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- With just two weeks left before Election Day, Barack Obama's lead stands at six points in the latest RCP Average, up slightly from yesterday morning. Taking a look at the state-by-state map, the news gets bad, and quickly, for John McCain: His path to 270 electoral votes is shrinking, and his campaign knows it.

-- McCain's road to the presidency is not going to include Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado, still officially target states but ones that are nearly hopeless, according to McCain insiders who talked with CNN's John King. Iowa and New Mexico, both of which voted for Al Gore in 2000, aren't a surprise, but losing Colorado would be a big blow to the McCain campaign. Manager Rick Davis is said to be a dissenter who thinks the state is winnable, and the campaign is still investing about $700,000 a week in the state.

-- If McCain cedes one of the Republican-leaning battlegrounds, he'll have to pick up a Democratic-leaning state to compensate, and right now they're focused on Pennsylvania. The latest RCP Pennsylvania Average shows Obama with a formidable 11.7-point lead in the state, an amount large enough to make Obama's people sleep soundly at night. Many, including Rep. John Murtha and Gov. Ed Rendell, have suggested Obama will have problems in the crucial Western Pennsylvania area because of his race. So far, those problems have yet to show themselves in polls.

-- Meanwhile, as of today every state in the Union has people voting for president as the final absentee ballots go out and the last early voting stations open. Obama, traveling in Florida with Hillary Clinton yesterday, made about as much noise as he could on the Sunshine State's first day of voting. Early voting is a big deal for Democrats -- statistics show 60% of those who have cast early ballots are Democrats, according to the Post's Robert Barnes -- while absentee voting favors Republicans; McCain's Southeast regional manager says the party leads among those voters by a 295,000 to 195,000 margin.

-- The perpetual battle in Ohio has gotten off to an early start this year with both parties accusing the other of dirty tricks surrounding voter registration. Last week there was a case to force the Secretary of State to implement new provisions on absentee voters, who can register and vote on the same day. Now a prosecutor in the Cincinnati area wants to inspect 266 registrations over questions of identity and addresses, the Washington Post's Mary Pat Flaherty writes. But the prosecutor's office may want to learn something about subtlety: The boss, Joseph Deters, is a local official with the McCain campaign, prompting Ohio Governor Ted Strickland to accuse Republicans of trying "to instill fear in Ohio voters."

-- Speaking of trying to instill fear, Joe Biden didn't help his cause much yesterday when he promised his running mate would face a "generated crisis" in the early months of his presidency. Talk about a window of opportunity through which McCain can drive a semi. "We don't want a president who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars," McCain told his last crowd of the day in Belton, Missouri, per the AP's Glen Johnson. It's the tiniest opportunity to turn a few voters back to national security, if not favorable ground than at least more so than economic issues for McCain, but it represents a major Biden flub.

-- Meanwhile, Obama will take time off the campaign trail on Thursday and Friday to make the trip to Hawaii to be with his grandmother, who is not well, the AP's Jennifer Loven reports. Madelyn Payne Dunham helped raise Obama, and after being released from the hospital this week, her prognosis is bad enough to pull her grandson away from planned events in Madison and Des Moines. Obama wouldn't leave the trail just ten days before Election Day for the sniffles, meaning things must be very serious. Dunham will turn 86 years old on Saturday, and one would hope she makes it to Election Day to vote for her grandson.

-- Spending Figures Of The Day: Barack Obama raised $150 million in September and he's raising more this month, along with his buddies at the Democratic National Committee. John McCain, handcuffed by federal spending limits, had just $47 million left to spend between October 1 and Election Day. Obama plans to spend $30 million over the next two weeks on television ads, writes the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn, and even with the RNC's assistance, that's not a pace with which McCain can keep up.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain hits the trail in newly must-win Pennsylvania today with rallies planned for Bensalem, Harrisburg and Moon Township. Obama is spending his second day in Florida with rallies in Lake Worth and Miami, where he'll be joined by wife Michelle. Palin is stopping in Reno and Henderson, Nevada, while Biden has events planned in Greeley and Commerce City, Colorado.

MN: Franken +2

If Al Franken wins his Senate race, he's going to need to send Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley a very large fruit basket. A Research 2000/DailyKos poll conducted 10/14-15 surveyed 600 likely Minnesota voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Senator Norm Coleman, Democrat Franken and Barkley were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Franken...41 / 75 / 5 / 32 / 37 / 45
Coleman...39 / 8 / 85 / 33 / 43 / 35
Barkley...18 / 15 / 8 / 32 / 19 / 17

Obama.....52 / 84 / 9 / 54 / 49 / 55
McCain....39 / 7 / 82 / 38 / 41 / 37

Barkley is taking more disaffected Democrats from Franken than he is Republicans from Coleman, but in a race this close Franken would much rather see them go to the third party candidate than to his Republican rival.

Despite Coleman's pledge to stay away from negative ads, the voter backlash looks like it seriously hurt the senator's reputation. Coleman's favorable rating is a lopsided 42% favorable to 56% unfavorable, with just 38% of independents viewing him favorably. Franken isn't hugely popular either, with an equal 48% of voters viewing him positively and negatively.

Strategy Memo: The Final Countdown

Good Monday morning. How much will TBS executives have to beg Major League Baseball to keep their contract for next year's playoffs? There were a lot of angry Red Sox fans on Saturday night. We wouldn't dream of speculating how many angry Red Sox fans there are this morning. (Too soon?) Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The calendar! With just fifteen days left before November 4, both parties are making their final investment decisions, preparing for critical get-out-the-vote operations and moving staffers from every other department to the field side. In 2000 and 2004, President Bush and the Democratic nominee entered the final two weeks with few points separating the contenders, and superior Republican field operations gave Bush the win. This year, the parties find themselves in very different positions.

-- This time, Barack Obama holds a five-point lead in the latest RCP Average nationally, but on a state-wide level the picture looks dramatically worse for McCain. Obama has healthy leads in every state John Kerry won in 2004, which give him a good start of 252 electoral votes, and small leads in Iowa and New Mexico, two states that voted for Al Gore in 2000 and President Bush four years later, adding another 12 to the total.

-- Not content with 264 electoral votes, Obama also sports small but significant leads in Colorado and Virginia, two states that voted Bush twice. Colorado, with a growing population of Hispanics and a crush of new residents moving in from across the country, has been slowly trending Democratic for a decade. Virginia is a different story. The commonwealth isn't loathe to elect Democrats to federal office -- see Chuck Robb's win in a 1994 Senate race -- but the rapidly expanding Northern Virginia suburbs have made the state winnable on a presidential level, giving Democrats an in to the very heart of Republican territory.

-- That's not the only place John McCain needs to worry about skipping out on the GOP ticket. The swing states that one can't categorize as safely on one side or the other include Nevada, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida, six states that all voted for President Bush twice. Indiana and North Carolina are solidly Republican in an ordinary year, but this is no ordinary year. By the way, that list does not include West Virginia and North Dakota, two states that would easily vote Republican all things being equal but that may now rank as toss-ups.

-- And the news keeps getting worse for Republicans. This weekend, Obama won backing from General Colin Powell, who called the Illinois Democrat a "transformational" figure while simultaneously laying in to his old friend John McCain's campaign as below the belt, and into Sarah Palin as unqualified to be president should the worst occur. Appearing on Meet the Press, Powell's case for Obama, and case against McCain, could be broadcast endlessly on a loop for undecided voters who respect the retired Secretary of State. Democrats sought to portray the nod as the final nail in the coffin, and while that may be an overstatement, it's a story that can stick in voters' minds.

-- Elsewhere for the Republican Party, the news doesn't get much better. Democrats are outraising and outspending the GOP at every turn, and it's starting to pay off. True, Republicans had only a few Democratic Senate seats to target as this cycle began, but now they have almost none, and the top ten Senate seats most likely to change hands are all Republican-held. Democrat Mary Landrieu is the only member of her party in any trouble at all, and even she's looking safer by the day.

-- On the House side, Republicans closed the massive fundraising gap by securing an $8 million loan to finance their last-minute independent expenditure ads. So Democrats widened the gap by taking out a record-breaking $15 million loan. We'll find out today just how big the financial disparity between the two committees will be, but the difference between Democratic and Republican bank accounts and what they spent last month is likely to be close to $50 million. Add in that Democrats are now taking serious looks at Republican seats held by Reps. Henry Brown of South Carolina, Brian Bilbray of California and Tom Latham of Iowa -- all of whom are the heavy favorites to win re-election -- and one gets the sense that Nancy Pelosi's prediction of a 250-seat majority is a bit of an underestimate.

-- Bottom Line Of The Day: We didn't even mention that Obama beat the pants off of those who expected him to raise $100 million between September and Election Day. Instead, the Illinois senator pulled in an astounding $150 million in September alone, leaving him in prime position to outspend McCain and the national Republican Party by a two-to-one or wider margin. Add that to a general landscape that favors Democrats, an electoral map that puts only Republican states in play and a sense of momentum that only seems to grow by the day and it's going to be very hard for Republicans to find anything to brag about on November 5. McCain's chances are not dead -- far from it -- but fifteen days before Election Day, he and his fellow Republicans should recognize how steep their climb will be.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain kicks off his day with a rally in St. Charles, Missouri before heading to events in Columbia and Belton. Obama kicks off early voting in the Sunshine State with stops in Tampa and in Orlando, where Hillary Clinton will join him. Sarah Palin is on the trail in Colorado Springs, Loveland and Grand Junction, Colorado, while Joe Biden is in Seattle to raise money for the Democratic ticket.

IL 11: Halvorson (D) +19

State Senator Debbie Halvorson has been saddled with unfavorable press for months, but she still has a big lead according to a poll for her own campaign. The Anzalone Liszt Research poll surveyed 400 likely voters between 10/10-13 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Halvorson, Republican businessman Martin Ozinga and Green Party candidate Jason Wallace.

General Election Matchup
Halvorson........48 (+5 from last, 9/08)
Ozinga...........29 (-6)

Generic Dem......38
Generic GOPer....36

Ozinga has the money to compete, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has dropped more than $1 million on television and mail on Halvorson's behalf, and that could turn out to be the difference in an ordinarily slightly Republican seat.

CA 50: Bilbray (R) +2

If Democrats benefit from a real wave, Rep. Brian Bilbray could be a member of Congress who gets surprised by a close race.

A new poll conducted 10/13-14 for Democrat Nick Liebham by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Bilbray, Liebham and Libertarian Wayne Dunlap were tested.

General Election Matchup

Liebham can thank the troubled economy for his close race. The Democrat leads 53%-34% among those who say the economy is their largest concern, and that means a lot in a wealthy district along the coast in San Diego and north toward Coronado. Liebham also leads 48%-32% among independents.

AK: Races Closing

Ted Stevens isn't done yet, according to a new poll, and even Rep. Don Young is creeping back into competition. The Research 2000 poll, conducted 10/14-16, surveyed 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Stevens and Mark Begich, the Democratic nominee, were tested, alongside the House matchup between Young and Ethan Berkowitz.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Begich.......48 / 86 / 11 / 55 / 44 / 52 (-2 from last, 9/17)
Stevens......46 / 7 / 85 / 39 / 51 / 41 (+2)

Berkowitz....50 / 85 / 14 / 58 / 46 / 54 (-3)
Young........44 / 8 / 79 / 38 / 50 / 38 (+5)

Stevens' corruption trial continues in Washington, and if he is vindicated in the next week, he could zip ahead of Democrat Begich. Republicans aren't finished in Alaska just yet.

MS: Wicker (R) +1

The number of African American voters will determine the winner of one of the state's Senate seats, a new poll shows. The DailyKos/Research 2000 poll surveyed 600 likely voters between 10/14-15 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Senator Roger Wicker, the Republican, and ex-Governor Ronnie Musgrove were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Wht / Blk)
Wicker.....47 / 6 / 85 / 45 / 72 / 5
Musgrove...46 / 88 / 7 / 49 / 24 / 83

Black voters made up 37% of the sample size, a slightly higher percentage than they made up in 2004. If excitement over Obama boosts turnout, Musgrove could snag the seat.

NC: Dems Lead

North Carolina has the potential to be a very bad state for Republicans come Election Day, but at least the party has a chance to steal a governor's mansion.

A DailyKos/Research 2000 poll conducted 10/14-15 surveyed 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Elizabeth Dole, a Republican, and Democrat Kay Hagan were tested in the Senate race, and Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory were tested in the governor's race.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Hagan....49 / 82 / 10 / 46 / 46 / 52 (+7 from last, 9/10)
Dole.....45 / 12 / 85 / 45 / 49 / 41 (-3)

Perdue...48 / 80 / 10 / 44 / 45 / 51 (+6)
McCrory..43 / 10 / 84 / 43 / 47 / 39 (-4)

Obama....46 / 76 / 8 / 47 / 42 / 50 (+8)
McCain...44 / 14 / 84 / 40 / 49 / 39 (-9)

Despite ads being run against her by conservative groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Freedom's Watch, Hagan's favorable rating is a very impressive 55% to 35% unfavorable. Dole hasn't led a poll for two weeks, and hasn't led a live-call poll for a month.

WY: Trauner, Lummis Tied

Wyoming saw a very close race two years ago, and an open seat this year looks like it will be just as competitive. A Research 2000 poll conducted for DailyKos surveyed 500 likely voters between 10/14-16 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. State Treasurer Cynthia Lummis and 2006 Democratic nominee Gary Trauner were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Trauner....44 / 87 / 14 / 58 / 41 / 47
Lummis.....43 / 11 / 65 / 33 / 47 / 39

Both candidates, facing a dead heat, are popular; 57% see Lummis favorably and 55% see Trauner the same way. Still, coattails could drag Lummis across the finish line. Not only is John McCain leading by a 58%-35% margin, Senators Mike Enzi (61%-34%) and John Barasso (57%-36%), both up for election this year, lead their Democratic rivals by wide margins.

OR: Merkley +6

Republican Gordon Smith is falling farther behind, according to the latest DailyKos/Research 2000 poll. Conducted 10/14-15, the poll surveyed 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Smith and Democrat Jeff Merkley were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Merkley...47 / 81 / 6 / 45 / 44 / 50 (+2 from last, 9/24)
Smith.....41 / 6 / 83 / 41 / 44 / 38 (+1)

Obama.....53 / 85 / 15 / 53 / 51 / 55
McCain....38 / 7 / 78 / 35 / 42 / 34

Smith has a net-unfavorable rating, 40% favorable to 47% unfavorable, and it's looking increasingly like the incumbent senator will face an uphill climb to keep his seat.

FL 24: Feeney Way Behind

If a candidate's first ad of the cycle is one apologizing for bad behavior in Washington, it's probably not a surprise that he or she would find themselves in serious political trouble, like Florida Rep. Tom Feeney does.

A new DCCC poll conducted 10/14-15 by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9% shows just how much ground the incumbent has to make up. Feeney and ex-State Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, the Democratic nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup

Feeney's first ad of the cycle was a candidate-to-camera ad in which the third-term Republican apologized for his past associations with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. After the ad, Feeney's favorable ratings stood at just 28% favorable to 51% unfavorable.

This year, we've seen a lot of incumbents with bad poll numbers. But the two polls out of Florida today showing Feeney and Rep. Tim Mahoney trailing by such huge margins are unique.

GA: Chambliss +2

The DSCC is advertising. Democrat Jim Martin outraised Senator Saxby Chambliss in the third quarter. And a new poll shows Georgia's a tight race. The Research 2000 poll conducted for DailyKos surveyed 600 likely voters between 10/14-15 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Chambliss, Martin and Libertarian Allen Buckley were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Chambliss....47 / 12 / 81 / 45 / 51 / 43 (+2 from last, 10/1)
Martin.......45 / 80 / 11 / 47 / 41 / 49 (+1)
Buckley...... 5 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 3 (no trend)

Don't let anyone tell you it's not a close race.

FL 16: Mahoney Tanks

New numbers out of embattled Rep. Tim Mahoney's Florida district shows having multiple mistresses is not the way to win re-election. Mahoney, who is apparently even flirting with withdrawing at this late date, may simply not have a prayer.

The Tarrance Group poll for the National Republican Congressional Committee surveyed 300 likely voters 10/15-16 for a margin of error of +/- 5.8%. Mahoney, a first-term Democrat, and attorney Tom Rooney were tested.

General Election Matchup
Rooney.........55 (+24 from last, 10/9)
Mahoney........29 (-27)

Mahoney's favorable rating has plummeted to 28%, while 53% see him unfavorably after revelations he paid a former mistress $121,000 to avoid a lawsuit and was involved in another affair with a local county official. In all, nearly nine in ten voters have heard about the scandal.

"The numbers speak for themselves," said the normally loquacious NRCC flak Ken Spain.

Strategy Memo: A Shrinking Map

Good Friday morning. The Boston Red Sox came back from a 7-0 deficit to force a game six in the ALCS. If you come back from a deficit like that, it's hard not to get expectations up about a series win. Here's what Washington is watching:

-- John McCain and Barack Obama spent last night in penguin suits at the Al Smith Dinner in New York, and before we kick off today's look at the news of the political world, it's nice to watch the two men who could be the next president make fun of each other without anyone getting hurt. Ok, maybe comedy itself took a few shots, but it's worth watching a couple of funny speeches.

-- As the two candidates leave New York and fan out across the country for the final eighteen-day sprint, Barack Obama retains his significant lead, polls show (One significant result, the Gallup daily tracking poll, has Obama leading by just two points, but Obama's edge in the latest RCP Average stands at 6.8 points). Obama is urging his supporters not to get cocky, the Post's Balz and Murray write. But forget the national polls, Balz and Murray point to an increasingly difficult path McCain must traverse in order to reach the presidency.

-- Consider the state of the electoral map: Obama has solidified virtually every state John Kerry won in 2004, save Minnesota. But even in the North Star State, he's got a significant lead. Obama is expected to win both Iowa and New Mexico, two states that gave President Bush electoral votes in 2004. The battleground states are not only all on John McCain's turf, the Arizona senator has to run the table to reach the 270 electoral votes he needs to win. The trouble, though, is that Obama is posting leads in every toss-up state except for Indiana and West Virginia.

-- Few expected either state to be a real political battleground. Indiana hasn't gone Democratic since the Stone Ages, and West Virginia, once a reliably Democratic state, has been trending away from the party for the better part of a decade. The Hoosier State has long been on Obama's short list; he last spent a day there after the second presidential debate, when he addressed a huge crowd in Indianapolis. Now, his campaign is targeting West Virginia after internal and public polls show the state closing. Obama will blanket the state with advertisements which started running yesterday, the Wall Street Journal's Sara Murray writes today (Even if Obama doesn't win the state, plenty of voters in critical eastern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania will get to see the spots).

-- But Florida is increasingly looking like the state on which Obama is betting all his chips. Democratic registration, especially in Miami-Dade County, is through the roof, and Obama has sent five senior aides to the Sunshine State for the remainder of the election, the Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten writes. Obama has to make up the 380,000 votes by which Bush won the state in 2004, and with a coalition of younger voters who benefit Democrats, an increased African American turnout and Hispanic voters much less resistant to Obama than many thought, that's a more than plausible goal.

-- The polls and the new demographics have caused both candidates to alter their travel plans, the New York Times' Nagourney and Rutenberg write. Obama will spend several upcoming days in Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia, followed by a two-day stop in Florida, while McCain ends his week in Florida then spends the weekend in once-reliably Republican North Carolina and perpetual swing state Ohio. Even the GOP admits it now has little chance to pick up a state Democrats won four years ago, though McCain is still spending money in Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The Republican National Committee has already closed up shop in Wisconsin.

-- Irony Of The Day: While Obama is, well, palling around with voters in swing states, Joe Biden will make a quick trip to the West Coast to hold a rally and to rake in some cash for the Democratic ticket. The potential future vice president will head to Tacoma for a rally at the second-largest venue in the city, home of the minor league Tacoma Rainiers. The Rainiers, for those who love triple-A baseball, play in Cheney Stadium.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain rallies in Miami and Melbourne, Florida. Obama's only public event of the day is scheduled for Roanoke, Virginia. Palin has rallies in West Chester, Ohio and Noblesville, Indiana, while Biden spends his day in Mesilla, New Mexico and Henderson, Nevada.

AL 05: Griffith (D_ +8

Republicans are unusually excited about the race to replace retiring Rep. Bud Cramer, and a new Democratic poll may show why.

The Anzalone Liszt Research poll conducted 10/12-14 for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. State Senator Parker Griffith, the Democrat, and ad executive Wayne Parker were tested.

General Election Matchup

A Democratic poll only showing Griffith up eight points and below the magic 50% mark suggests the senator, though better-funded and better-known, could have problems keeping the seat in Democratic hands.

Strategy Memo: The Last Dance

Good Thursday morning. Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies, who beat the Los Angeles Dodgers last night to make it to the World Series. Barack Obama's White Sox and John McCain's Diamondbacks are practicing their golf games, but Joe Biden's Phillies are headed to the series. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- There's no question who the big winner in last night's debate was. Mentioned five times as much as the war in Iraq, Joe Wurzelbacher, a Toledo plumber caught on camera having a talk on taxes with Barack Obama last weekend, became an instant celebrity. Both McCain and Obama spoke directly to him, advocating their tax and health care plans and doing everything they could to win his vote. Wurzelbacher told reporters after the debate that McCain "got it right," writes Joe Curl of the Washington Times, though he won't say which candidate he's picked. "That's for me and a button to know," Joe told the Associated Press.

-- As for the candidates, it was their night to reach out to the Average Joe, plumber or not. With Wall Street suffering its worst day since Black Monday in 1987, the domestic policy debate focused mostly on economics, with Obama and McCain jousting over tax policy, health care, education, energy and spending. McCain was largely on offense, hitting Obama on every topic he could, writes the Washington Post's Dan Balz, but none of it fazed Obama.

-- With the economy so much in focus, it was taxes that dominated much of the debate (Thanks to Joe, fretting over his taxes), and perhaps the subject of McCain's most effective attacks of the night. McCain demonstrated there were two different tax plans and argued that his would save voters more money. If viewers left after the first fifteen minutes, McCain might be the big winner. Splice in the spending cuts and those are the arguments McCain wins.

-- On the other hand, McCain's least effective attacks came against Obama's associations with Bill Ayers, the 1960's and 1970's radical who sat on a board with Obama a decade ago. Anticipating the attack, Obama brought up the subject first and the exchange lasted all of three minutes. That's not enough time for voters to get the picture that Obama associates with anyone untoward. (Think of the Ayers attacks as akin to the attacks on Al Franken in the Minnesota Senate race; Norm Coleman figured out they're not working, so he won plaudits for taking down his negative ads)

-- Meanwhile, Obama had some of his best moments talking about health care, slamming McCain for proposing taxes on benefits and for providing just $5,000 in credits when the average plan costs $12,000 a year. Democrats have effectively pigeon-holed McCain's plans and made it more about taxing benefits than about any way McCain wants to spin it. And when health care becomes such a big issue in a campaign, controlling the way an opponent's plans are seen is a very effective way of gaining an edge.

-- So, overall, who won? Uncommitted voters overwhelmingly told pollsters they thought Barack Obama walked away with it, and by margins of more than two-to-one. Most pundits came to more tempered conclusions, giving McCain a narrow victory but concluding that it may not be enough to swing momentum back to his side. McCain's message seemed all over the place, like someone who knows he's running out of time. Wait until Saturday or so, when the first post-debate polls come out, but the numbers are unlikely to move toward McCain.

-- Then again, maybe those numbers don't have to move toward John Mccain, if Pennsylvania Rep. Jack Murtha is right. Murtha, known for occassionally sticking his foot in his mouth, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that his area, in the western side of the state, "is a racist area," and that "the older population is more hesitant" to vote for an African American. The Obama campaign can't be happy about that, not because of any actual racial factors (And we'd bet it's more of a class thing; remember, these are the same Democrats who abandoned Al Gore, John Kerry and Michael Dukakis), but because these are the same folks Obama called "bitter" and clingy earlier this year. Murtha just opened an old wound that had so far been healing nicely.

-- Ominous Sign Of The Day: The National Republican Senatorial Committee has not re-upped its ad buys in the lone state in which a pickup is possible, The Fix reported late yesterday. Senator Mary Landrieu, running against Republican John Kennedy, has been the target of NRSC attack ads, but those are slated to end next Tuesday, fourteen days before Louisianans head to the polls. As Democrats have launched ads in Kentucky and Georgia, expanding their Senate map, the GOP has seen their last best hope fade away.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama heads to New Hampshire for a stop in Londonderry today, while McCain has a rally in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Both candidates will head to the Alfred E. Smith Dinner tonight at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Biden is a guest on NBC's Tonight Show and McCain will stop by David Letterman's Late Show, while Sarah Palin hits the trail in North Carolina for a rally in Elon and a fundraiser in Greensboro.

PA 11: Barletta (R) +4, +5

Democratic Rep. Paul Kanjorski's Scranton-based district has been inundated by hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside ads, but not much has changed, according to two new independent polls out this week, and Kanjorski remains behind his Republican opponent.

A Franklin & Marshall poll conducted 10/8-12 among 586 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Kanjorski and Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Barletta.....40 / 23 / 65 / 60 / 44 / 37 (-4 from last, 9/08)
Kanjorski....35 / 52 / 11 / 11 / 31 / 38 (no change)

Obama........46 / 67 / 14 / 29 / 43 / 49
McCain.......37 / 17 / 69 / 49 / 44 / 32

A Research 2000 poll conducted for DailyKos surveyed 400 likely voters from 10/6-8 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Kanjorski and Barletta were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Barletta.....43 / 15 / 82 / 41 / 46 / 40
Kanjorski....39 / 64 / 8 / 32 / 37 / 41

Obama........47 / 78 / 6 / 45 / 43 / 51
McCain.......43 / 10 / 87 / 46 / 49 / 37

One thing is clear: Kanjorski trails because Democrats just won't coalesce around the twelve-term incumbent.In both polls, Barletta is winning twice the number of Democrats as Kanjorski is winning Republicans.

Democrats and the National Association of Realtors have spent almost $1.9 million on Kanjorski's behalf, making the seat the top recipient of outside spending in the country. But it might take another outside group to weigh in on Kanjorski's behalf to make the real difference: Earlier this week, the National Rifle Association announced they would back the Democrat.

The NRA hasn't been terribly active in House and Senate races so far this year, but if they play a role in the final three weeks, it would help Kanjorski pick up some of the gun-toting voters who have sent him back to Congress so many times.

Strategy Memo: Back Against Wall

Good Wednesday morning. It's surprising to think that there are just twenty days to go before this whole thing is over. An increasing number of politicos just can't wait. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- It's debate night at Hofstra University on Long Island, and it could not come soon enough for John McCain's campaign. Many thought Barack Obama had peaked a week ago, only to find new polls showing him above 50 and apparently pulling away. Obama leads McCain by a wide 50.1 to 42.1 margin in the latest RCP Average, and he shows no signs of slowing down in any one of the key swing states. Eight points is a big deficit to erase with twenty days to go, and McCain's going to have to make tonight count.

-- Obama has largely been sitting on his lead, building his GoTV program (the "field goal unit," as manager David Plouffe calls it) and remaining above the Ayers-Wright-ACORN fray. McCain needs to accomplish what Obama's rivals have been trying to do for nearly two years: Drag Obama off that pedestal and into the mud of a presidential election. And given the expectations and the audience he'll have tonight, McCain has the opportunity to make that happen. He also has to make it happen, because he's now run out of chances.

-- But what form will McCain's shots take? One bit of chin music will be Obama's supposed associations with William Ayers, the former Weather Underground leader who now teaches on education at a University of Illinois outlet. Obama had criticized McCain for not bringing the issue up to his face. Asked by St. Louis radio host Mark Reardon (a friend of Politics Nation, we're happy to say) whether he'd have the guts to bring up Ayers this time, McCain said he did. "I think he's probably ensured that it will come up this time," McCain said. Listen to the audio here.

-- With twenty days to go (Can you tell we're just a little bit happy about that milestone? Just wait until we hit ten), McCain continues to use Ayers as a favorite whipping boy to portray an un-American Obama. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, which was supposed to be the game-changing weakness that would strip Obama of his post-racial appeal, hasn't come up in a serious way, aside from anonymous emails, in months. And voters don't seem to be buying arguments that Obama's just not qualified. In fact, the attacks on Obama may be what's hurting McCain, the New York Times' Cooper and Thee write today. McCain's favorability rating is an upside-down 36% to 41% who see him unfavorably (Sarah Palin's is an even worse 32% favorable to 41% unfavorable).

-- So McCain has to find a new way to slam Obama, and he's got twelve hours from the time this is published to do it before he sits down with Obama and CBS's Bob Schieffer tonight. McCain's goals will be to thrust, Obama's to parry. McCain doesn't like being negative, as we saw in the first two debates. But without a game-changing revelation this late in the contest, there may not be enough time for other options.

-- The buzzards are already circling the McCain campaign. Few are sure just who's driving the message, whether it's McCain himself or top strategists, but most agree that person or people deserve the blame. McCain's brother, Joe, is emailing the media criticizing the campaign, writes the Baltimore Sun's Paul West. Politico's Roger Simon sees McCain lurching between an attack strategy and an above-the-fray strategy. And former Clinton flack Howard Wolfson performs a pre-mortem with six steps that would have saved McCain.

-- Barack Obama's plan for victory largely depends on turning out new and heavily Democratic voters to the polls, something that hasn't always worked in the past. But early evidence indicates it may be working this time. Politico's Ben Smith points out a boosted number of early voters in Georgia and a surprising surge in the African American vote, just as many have predicted. In early voting so far, blacks make up a 37% share, while they're only 29% of the electorate. That's not going to put Georgia in play, but it's sure going to help in other states.

-- Anecdote Of The Day: We've written about it a lot at The Scorecard, but in another example of just how poisonous one Republican thinks his own party label may be, Oregon Senator Gordon Smith took every chance he got to associate himself with Democrats at every turn. Smith said nice things about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and he's run television ads featuring John Kerry and Ted Kennedy. As Smith reaches out to Oregon independents and liberals, though, he may have to watch his right flank, the New York Times' William Yardley writes, as some local Republicans aren't happy.

-- Today On The Trail: With Obama and McCain in New York preparing for tonight's debate, Joe Biden and Sarah Palin are left to their own devices. Biden has events planned for Athens, Lancaster and Newark, Ohio, while Palin rallies in Dover, Weirs Beach and Salem, New Hampshire. Todd Palin will hit the trail for his own stops around New Hampshire, while Michelle Obama has a larger rally planned for Fort Wayne, Indiana.

FL 25: MDB (R) +3

Political consultant Joe Garcia is creeping up on Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, according to a poll for Garcia's campaign. The Hamilton Campaigns poll surveyed 500 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%, testing Diaz-Balart and Garcia.

General Election Matchup
Diaz-Balart....45 (-10 from last, 7/13)
Garcia.........42 (+9)

Garcia may be Democrats' best hope of picking up one of the three South Florida seats the party is strongly contesting.

NJ 03, 07: Dems Lead

Two Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee poll show Garden State voters haven't started breaking hard yet.

A Grove Insight poll conducted 10/2-3 surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Democratic State Senator John Adler and ex-Medford Mayor Chris Myers were tested.

General Election Matchup


A Benenson Strategy Group poll conducted 10/8-9 surveyed 406 likely voters in the Seventh District for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Stender and GOP state Senator Leonard Lance were tested.

General Election Matchup

When undecided voters start dropping below 20%, polls will show which way the late-breakers go, a crucial indicator in New Jersey elections.

CO, MN: Dems Lead

The latest Quinnipiac University poll for and the Wall Street Journal confirms what several other polls have purported to show: Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman is in serious trouble.

The poll, conducted 10/8-12 among 1,019 likely voters, had a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. Coleman, satirist Al Franken and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Franken....38 / 74 / 4 / 32 / 35 / 41
Coleman....36 / 6 / 81 / 32 / 39 / 34
Barkley....18 / 12 / 11 / 29 / 18 / 17

The last Quinnipiac survey showed Coleman leading by seven points but inexplicably left out Barkley, a third-party candidate who's going to have one of the most dramatic impacts of any third-party player around the nation this year. Other polls also show Coleman and Franken essentially tied, with Barkley pulling close to 20%.

Quinnipiac also showed Colorado Rep. Mark Udall increasing his lead over Republican ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer. Also conducted 10/8-12, the poll surveyed 1,088 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Udall and Schaffer were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Udall......54 / 91 / 11 / 55 / 51 / 57
Schaffer...40 / 3 / 85 / 37 / 43 / 37

The last Quinnipiac poll showed Udall with an eight-point lead.

PA 03: Dahlkemper (D) +7

It's no wonder national Republicans have picked Pennsylvania's Third District as one of the first places to run ads backing their candidate. A new survey shows Republican Rep. Phil English trailing his Democratic opponent by a wide margin.

The Research 2000 poll conducted for DailyKos surveyed 400 likely voters 10/6-8 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. English and Lake Erie Arboretum Director Kathy Dahlkemper were tested among a sample made up of 46% Democrats, 40% Republicans and 14% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Dahlkemper...48 / 83 / 9 / 48 / 44 / 52
English......41 / 7 / 80 / 40 / 46 / 36

Obama........46 / 80 / 7 / 47 / 42 / 50
McCain.......44 / 8 / 85 / 43 / 49 / 39

President Bush won English's Third District by six points in 2004. But the economy is getting hit hard in northwest Pennsylvania, and English's lower income, largely blue-collar district is feeling the pain.

It's not that English has done anything to get fired. It's that the economy favors Democrats by such a wide margin right now that a political neophyte like Dahlkemper can give English a race.

Republicans are doing all they can to save their incumbent, dropping about $300,000 into the district. But Democrats, who recognized the opportunity for a pickup, have spent about twice that amount so far.

Strategy Memo: Debate Prep

Good Tuesday morning. The Boston Herald's Margery Eagan says it all with her headline today: "Insufferable campaigns thankfully near end." Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- A day before the final debate of the 2008 presidential election (A hot night at Hofstra? The Long Island Lickin'? We've never been good at naming these things) John McCain and Barack Obama are still stuck on the economy, and they will be for the forseeable future. McCain, who promised staffers this weekend that he would kick Obama's "you-know-what," had better do just that: He trails by 7.2 points in the latest RCP Average, and economic news has given Obama significant leads in every swing state save Indiana and West Virginia. McCain's going to have to hit a heck of a home run to get back in the game.

-- McCain is slowly but surely trying to change the direction of his own campaign, offering a new stump speech yesterday in which he distanced himself from President Bush and told supporters that an overconfident Obama was "right where we want 'em." Today, McCain will outline new economic policies and "specific new measures," according to top policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin (By way of the Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes).

-- McCain is going to need to develop his own economic policies and earn voter confidence in the next three weeks, but he's also going to have to continue putting space between himself and his own president. Democrats have been trying to solidify a connection between Bush and McCain for months, and on issues like Iraq and foreign policy, it just hasn't worked. Now, with the economy front and center in voters' minds, the association is hurting McCain and Republicans around the country in dramatic fashion, making McCain's speech in Virginia Beach yesterday all the more important to his own success, AP's Beth Fouhy writes.

-- But will a renewed message be enough for McCain to overtake Obama? With just three weeks to go, the Illinois senator has built an organization that rivals any previously used in a presidential race, and he's still got money to burn, the LA Times' Barabak and Morain write. With at least $175 million to spend between September 1 and Election Day, Obama will easily outspend McCain and likely will have more available than McCain plus the RNC. As Obama expands the field into Indiana and North Carolina, McCain is having to make more difficult spending decisions, and that gets harder each time Obama puts another state -- like West Virginia -- in play.

-- Forget the Mountaineer State for a moment and look closer to the electoral battleground we're all used to. Missouri had all the appearance of an emerging red state, aside from Senator Claire McCaskill's 2006 win, but Obama is keeping it firmly in play, writes the Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni, as he's doing with the rest of the Midwest. Obama is easily ahead in Iowa, sports a small lead in Missouri and trails by just a small margin in Indiana, she writes, three states where President Bush picked up electoral votes in 2004.

-- Back to the money question for a moment. As Obama's financial advantage grows, so have House and Senate campaign committees and Democratic candidates around the country. The National Republican Congressional Committee has secured an $8 million loan to build their own warchest, while the Republican National Committee -- which raised $66 million last month -- is considering their own $5 million line of credit, Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. As Republicans fall deeper into a financial hole, their trouble could only grow toward 2010, when Democrats may build another massive financial advantage. Still, the RNC isn't out of money yet, and yesterday the party spent $5 million on advertising around the country, the New York Times' Leslie Wayne reports, slamming Obama for his associations with Chicago politicos and for his economic policies.

-- Speaking of looking ahead, with both candidates already operating their transition teams, Obama is going a step farther and courting conservative Democrats he'll need to pass his legislative initiatives, the Washington Post's Shailagh Murray writes. The 49 members of the Blue Dog Coalition, led by Reps. John Tanner, Allen Boyd and Mike Ross, will have considerable power to stop or usher through Obama's legislative agenda should he win, and Obama's team wants them on his side. It's part of the broader transition effort, being led by big-name Washington Democrats like John Podesta.

-- Term Of The Day: First he said being a member of Congress wasn't the best job he's ever had. Then he forgot to pay rent on his Washington apartment and got carted off to court. Now, Florida Democrat Tim Mahoney has agreed to pay $121,000 to a former mistress, ABC News reported yesterday. Injecting just the right amount of irony is the fact that the Palm Beach Democrat replaced Rep. Mark Foley two years ago, marking two sex scandals in two years for Florida's Sixteenth District. Republican Tom Rooney just got the gift of a political lifetime; we doubt Mahoney will be back in Washington in 2009.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain will be in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania today for a rally, while running mate Sarah Palin will hold her own rally in Scranton. The two will meet up in New York for a fundraiser tonight. Obama is in Toledo, Ohio with no public events scheduled, while Joe Biden rallies in Warren, St. Clairsville and Marietta, Ohio.

LA 06: Cazayoux Up Big

An internal poll for Rep. Don Cazayoux showed him with a big lead, and now a DCCC poll echoes the sentiment. A Bennett Petts & Normington poll conducted 10/8-9 for the DCCC surveyed 400 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Cazayoux, state Senator Bill Cassidy and state Rep. Michael Jackson, the independent candidate, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Jackson......... 9

Jackson, an African American former Democrat who lost the special election primary to Cazayoux, was supposed to have seriously cut into Cazayoux's base. But having failed to raise serious cash, Jackson doesn't look like a major factor so far.

WV 02: Capito Safe

She never has an easy race, but Republican Rep. Shelly Moore Capito looks like she's cruising this year. A DailyKos/Research 2000 poll conducted 10/6-8 surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9% and tested Capito and Democrat Ann Barth.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Capito....53 / 18 / 84 / 57 / 56 / 50
Barth.....39 / 78 / 5 / 34 / 37 / 41

McCain....48 / 14 / 83 / 47 / 52 / 44
Obama.....41 / 76 / 5 / 42 / 39 / 43

Even with Senator Robert Byrd's endorsement and appearance in a recent Barth ad (Barth used to serve as Byrd's state director), the Democrat has a long way to go to catch up, and she may not have enough time.

AZ 03: Dueling Polls

Arizona Republican John Shadegg should be perfectly safe this year, especially given the coattails he'll see from having home-state Senator John McCain atop the GOP ticket. But two new polls show Shadegg under the 50% mark, giving him reason to worry.

A poll conducted by Research 2000 for the liberal blog DailyKos surveyed 400 likely voters between 10/6-8 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Shadegg and Phoenix attorney Bob Lord were tested among a sample size of 46% Republicans, 29% Democrats and 25% independents.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Shadegg....48 / 6 / 78 / 43 / 51 / 45
Lord...........39 / 88 / 6 / 43 / 37 / 41

McCain......50 / 6 / 81 / 44 / 52 / 48
Obama......39 / 88 / 6 / 43 / 38 / 40

A second poll conducted for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee by Anzalone Liszt Research surveyed 400 likely voters between 10/6-8 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Shadegg, Lord and Libertarian candidate Michael Shoen were tested. The party ID breakdown was 46% Republican, 30% Democratic and 24% independents or others.

General Election Matchup

Generic GOPer...46
Generic Dem.......43

R2K didn't include Shoen in a district that has recently awarded at least a few points to Libertarian candidates. And given the discontent with the Republican Party even among its own base, Shoen may do better than Libertarians in other years.

The two major parties have very different views of Shadegg's north Phoenix district. Democrats say it resembles the Tempe- and Scottsdale-based Fifth District, which Rep. Harry Mitchell took over in 2006, while Republicans argue it is a very different type of district that is likely to remain in GOP hands.

Strategy Memo: Political Economics 101

Good Monday morning, and happy Columbus Day. If we were making up a holiday, we'd make sure it wasn't three weeks before Election Day so that even political reporters could take the day off. Here's what the unlucky few still working in Washington are watching:

-- Last week's dramatic market slide won't happen a second time in a row, many economists think, thanks to a bold British move to insert the U.K. government into the country's largest banks in order to prevent catastrophe. Prime Minister Gordon Brown says his government will spend 37 billion pounds buying major stakes in the country's two largest banks and a significant portion of a third, Bloomberg News reports. Brown called for the government to be a "rock of stability," and he just may be right, as market drops last week aren't expected to continue.

-- But that doesn't mean either Barack Obama or John McCain are off the hook in terms of the economy. 53% of registered voters in the latest Washington Post/ABC News survey say they think the economy and jobs are the most important issue, the highest levels recorded by that poll. Another 7% say health care is the top issue. Obama leads on both fronts, by a 53%-37% margin on the economy and by a 59%-30% margin on health care. The two candidates are essentially tied on the war in Iraq, which clocks in as the third-most important issue at 6%. 58% say Obama better understands the economic problems people in the U.S. are having, while 28% choose McCain.

-- In each case, the numbers are trending toward Obama. More people now say the economy is a tough issue; more people say he is more trustworthy and better understands the economy; and, by the way, more people think President Bush is doing a bad job -- 73% -- than ever before, while just 8% say the country is headed in the right direction (Who are these 8%?). 88% of voters say they are worried about the direction of the economy over the next few years, while just 44% are confident they will retire with enough in savings to last for the rest of their lives. That's a drop of 25 points since the question was last asked, in 2005.

-- Obama will continue to hammer economic issues in a major address on an economic rescue plan for the middle class today in Toledo, Ohio. With the economy largely responsible for pulling Obama significantly ahead of McCain -- Obama leads by 7.1 points in the latest RCP National Average and hits the crucial 50% mark for the first time -- it only makes sense that the Democrat will spend the rest of the campaign working to boost his advantage on the subject.

-- That's why John McCain looked like he needed to reassert himself on the economy, and fast, as the Politico's David Paul Kuhn writes. McCain has to offer a break from Bush Administration policies, GOP strategists told Kuhn, and focus almost solely on the economy in order to turn around his flagging campaign. "We are speaking in angry Greek and the public wants to hear economic English," former top McCain adviser John Weaver said.

-- Instead, McCain and his top advisers spent the weekend working on new economic plans for his own major address. McCain will make a speech on the economy today during stops in North Carolina and Virginia, but we won't hear anything new out of it, writes the New York Times' Jackie Calmes. McCain spent part of the weekend considering tax cuts on capital gains and dividends in order to help ease the sagging market, according to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who made the remarks on CBS's Face the Nation. But, says campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds, no immediate new policy proposals are on the way.

-- Gate Of The Day: Troopergate may be getting about as much national traction as William Ayers -- that is to say, little to none -- but Friday's revelation of a report critical of Sarah Palin's handling of the firing of Alaska's Public Safety Commissioner isn't doing her any favors. Palin said the report clears her of improper behavior, a claim ABC News says is "just not the case." The report raises new questions about Palin's credibility, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff writes (See a transcript of Palin briefing Alaska reporters on the news here). With one more investigation to go before Alaska politicos even think of putting Troopergate behind them, one has to wonder why the brewing storm wasn't an automatic disqualifier way back in August.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain and Palin have a joint rally planned for Virginia Beach this morning before they go their separate ways. McCain will rally in Wilmington, North Carolina this afternoon while Palin has plans to show up in Richmond. Obama's only event of the day will be his economic policy address at SeaGate Convention Centre in Toledo, Ohio, while Biden hits community gatherings in Rochester and Manchester, New Hampshire. Tonight, Biden attends the Delaware Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Dover. Michelle Obama stumps for her husband in Rochester, Minnesota and in St. Paul.

NC: Hagan, McCrory Lead

If there's a state in which change will dominate, it's North Carolina. The incumbent party trails the three races atop the ballot, according to a new poll. The TelOpinion Research poll, conducted for the conservative-leaning Civitas Institute, surveyed 600 likely voters between 10/6-8 for a margin of error of +/- 4%.

Senator Elizabeth Dole, Democrat Kay Hagan and Libertarian Chris Cole were matched up in the Senate race, while Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue, GOP Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and Libertarian Michael Munger were pitted against each other in the governor's race.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Hagan......45 / 68 / 15 / 44 / 44 / 46 (+4 from last, 9/20)
Dole.......42 / 17 / 77 / 41 / 43 / 41 (-2)
Cole....... 2 / 3 / 1 / 4 / 3 / 2 (-3)

McCrory....43 / 17 / 77 / 46 / 44 / 42 (no change)
Perdue.....41 / 64 / 13 / 32 / 41 / 41 (no change)
Munger.....-- / -- / -- / -- / -- / -- (-3)

The same poll shows Barack Obama leading John McCain by five points, 48%-43%. If you're an incumbent in North Carolina, you're in trouble.

MI 09: Peters (D) Leads

Two more Democratic polls have former Michigan Lottery Commissioner Gary Peters leading Republican Rep. Joe Knollenberg. A poll for Peters' campaign conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research surveyed 412 likely voters 10/6-7 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Knollenberg and Peters were tested, along with independent Jack Kevorkian, Green Party candidate Doug Campbell and Libertarian Adam Goodman.

General Election Matchup
Kevorkian........ 5
Campbell......... 2

A Grove Insight poll conducted for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee surveyed 400 likely voters between 10/4-5 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Knollenberg, Peters and Kevorkian were tested.

General Election Matchup
Kevorkian....... 2

We keep expecting a rebuttal poll from Knollenberg's campaign, but the silence so far is deafening.

Strategy Memo: Impending Disaster

Good Friday morning. Barack Obama says he's a Phillies fan now, taking a bold stand that could irritate all fifteen Dodger fans who live outside California. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- Forget William Ayers, Charles Keating (Or Frank Keating, for that matter), liberal voting records or erratic performances. Once again, the economy is going to dominate the news today. The Russian stock market suspended trading today, while markets around the globe sputtered through serious losses. Dow futures were way down before the market opened this morning, and if one is interested in one's own fortunes, check your bank balance, not your 401(k) statement. G7 finance ministers are holding an emergency meeting in Washington today, but whether any solutions come out of that meeting remains to be seen.

-- It is the impending crisis that has changed Americans' outlook on government, and therefore their party preferences. Instead of small, out of the way government, the appetite is for a someone who gets something done, though that something remains an ambiguous concept. The outcome of this election suddenly looks a lot better for Democrats, and party strategists are whispering about picking up dozens of House seats. The number 60 -- a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate -- has come up, and though it remains a long shot, Democrats suddenly have new hope. Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, one of the smartest guys in the business, sees Democratic prospects going "from good to great," giving Republicans a brand new reason to plan an extra-long post-election vacation.

-- On the presidential campaign trail, all may not be lost for John McCain, but the fact that he trails Obama by a significant margin is in his supporters' heads. The anger is building in GOP crowds, with McCain and Sarah Palin frequently interrupted by insults aimed at Obama, the Washington Post's Shear and Bacon write. McCain supporters urged him yesterday to slam Obama over Jeremiah Wright and Michael Pfleger, over Ayers and Nancy Pelosi, and they're seriously mad. McCain's campaign has to turn that anger into positive energy before it spirals into depression.

-- Everything looks like it's coming up Obama lately, and Democrats feel like they're one big step away from sealing the deal. If McCain goes seriously negative at the third and final presidential debate next week in New York, he'll have to walk a delicate line between finding effective ways to nail Obama and dropping over the cliff's edge. Joe Biden, for one, is egging McCain on perilously close to that edge. "John McCain could not bring himself to look Barack Obama in the eye and say the same things to him," Biden said at a rally in St. Joseph, Missouri, per NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli. If McCain takes that bait, the GOP could be in serious, and irreversible, trouble.

-- Obama has pulled a Ross Perot, buying up half an hour of primetime television just days before Election Day, the Hollywood Reporter writes. Obama's infomercial-length ad will run Wednesday, October 29 at 8 p.m., and it won't be on Obama's own satellite channel or some barely-watched specialty channel; the Democrat has rented space on CBS and NBC. Ad expert Evan Tracey estimates to the Hollywood reporter that Obama has more cash than there is television left to buy. Even better, the half-hour ad will pre-empt "Gary Unmarried," the new Jay Mohr vehicle. But we kid. The serious conclusions one may draw, writes Ben Smith, are that Obama's fundraising is going just fine.

-- Meanwhile, the first October surprise of the year comes out today to little fanfare as legislative investigators release results of their probe into Sarah Palin's firing of Alaska's top cop. The Troopergate investigation is under review by some Alaska lawmakers, though they've been sworn to secrecy, per the Associated Press, but it's expected to show just how far Palin went in urging Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan to fire Michael Wooten, her former brother-in-law, writes the New York Times' Serge Kovaleski.

-- But Palin has no reason to worry. The McCain campaign has released their own report exonerating the governor of any wrongdoing, writes AP's Matt Apuzzo (Who's probably thinking about a raise after the last six weeks of Palin mania). The campaign report says her firing of Monegan was over budget disputes and didn't have anything to do with Wooten. That's one explanation, but it's probably not going to have an impact on the two remaining reports prepared by legislative and executive investigators.

-- Hero Of The Day: Why do we know who Sarah Palin is? Because of a public relations firm that pitched her to national reporters just after she took office, the Washington Post's Kimberly Kindy writes today. Without that p.r. firm, Palin the wunderkind would still be doing what she did during her first month as governor, puttering around Juneau and showing up when ceremony called for it. Instead, she's the energy expert hockey mom who just might be Vice President of the United States.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama kicks off day two of his American Jobs Tour with a rally in Chillicothe followed by a mid-day rally in Columbus, Ohio. McCain is in La Crosse, Wisconsin before heading to Lakeville, Minnesota. Palin starts her day at a fundraiser in Cleveland before attending a ribbon cutting ceremony. Later, she has a fundraiser set for Pittsburgh. Michelle Obama has a speech set for a women's issues conference in Chicago, where Joe and Jill Biden will join her.

PA 10: Carney (D) +15

It took Democrats 46 years to take back Pennsylvania's Tenth District, and Rep. Chris Carney has no interest in giving it back. A new independent poll shows he may not have to. The Franklin & Marshall College poll, conducted 9/30-10/5, surveyed 713 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 3.6%. Carney and businessman Chris Hackett were tested.

General Election Matchup

Survey director Terry Madonna told the Scranton Times Carney leads because of a fractured Republican base following an ugly primary. "If these numbers showed Hackett with 80 percent support among Republicans, this thing would be over," Madonna said.

AK: Begich +4, Under 50

What happens if Ted Stevens wins acquittal? It has to worry Democrats that their nominee, Mark Begich, is below 50% in most recent polls.

The latest poll, conducted by Ivan Moore Research, surveyed 500 likely voters between 10/3-6 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Stevens and Begich were tested in the Senate race, while Rep. Don Young and Democratic nominee Ethan Berkowitz were pitted against each other in the House contest.

General Election Matchup
Begich........49 (no change from last, 9/2)
Stevens.......45 (-1)

Berkowtiz.....51 (-3)
Young.........42 (+4)

Young lacks the opportunity for vinidcation an acquittal would give Stevens, making his deficit much more difficult to overcome.

IN: Daniels +19

Setting up a classic battle of the pollsters, a GOP-leaning polling firm has Governor Mitch Daniels ahead by a huge margin. The Bellweather Research & Consulting poll conducted for the Indiana Manufacturers Association surveyed 500 registered voters between 10/2-6 for a margin of error of +/- 4.2%. Daniels, ex-Rep. Jill Long Thompson and Libertarian Andy Horning were tested.

General Election Matchup

The poll is dramatically different from a Selzer & Co. poll conducted for the Indianapolis Star and WTHR-TV that showed Daniels ahead by just four points. Who's right? Wait for Election Day to find out.

The Indiana Manufacturers Association has endorsed Daniels.

Strategy Memo: McCain's Harsh Reality

Good Thursday morning. As political Washington looks outward, residential Washington has caught 'Skins fever. Wait for their November 3 Monday night game against the Steelers, which could determine who takes the White House (Hint: A 'Skins home win, historically, is good for the incumbent party). Here's what else Washington is watching today:

-- We like talking strategy, but let's focus for a moment on tactics. Barack Obama is spending millions a day more than John McCain on television advertising -- $3.3 million compared with $900,000 for McCain, the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn writes, and that was just on Monday. The RNC dumped in $700,000 the same day to close the gap somewhat, but Obama is on pace to blow the GOP out of the water in terms of paid media. The gaps are biggest in states where Obama is doing surprisingly well, like North Carolina, where Democrats are outspending Republicans 8-1.

-- That's a big gap to overcome, and McCain will increasingly rely on the RNC to keep him even. Still, the Post's Dan Balz writes, McCain's campaign is staying optimistic. "We've been dead before," top aide Mark Salter told Balz. Campaign manager Rick Davis points out that McCain is playing defense to get to 270 electoral votes, a better position than Obama, who has to convert states used to voting Republican. McCain is going to have to make more moves like he did in Michigan, where his campaign has largely pulled out, but the ship hasn't sunk yet.

-- To retake the lead in states like Virginia and North Carolina, Ohio and Florida, McCain is going to have to cast Obama in a negative light. The state of the race as it stands today shows Obama leading, after all, meaning McCain's best strategy is probably to take votes away from his rival. McCain has long tried to cast Obama as unready for the job, but perhaps never more so than yesterday during stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania, write the Washington Times' Bellantoni and Curl. McCain directly said yesterday that his rival does not have the experience to be president, the first time he's made that claim in so many words.

-- Meanwhile, the effort to cast Obama as "The Other" or "That One" continues, with the McCain campaign dropping an ad referring to Obama's ranking as the most liberal senator in Congress and labeling him "not presidential." The message is a dangerous one to make, as many see any criticisms of Obama as racist. But if he does it right, McCain's point is that Obama is different from the average voter just like John Kerry, Al Gore and Michael Dukakis were: Northern Ivy League-educated elitists who don't understand the average American (Then again, a guy who doesn't know how many houses he owns and a woman with a plane may not get average folks either).

-- Perhaps the most surprising attack coming directly from the McCain campaign came not from the candidate, his designated vice presidential attack dog or even low-level surrogates, but from Cindy McCain, who has been quiet on the trail lately. "The day that Senator Obama decided to cast a vote to not fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body," she said. Has Sarah Palin, whose son just deployed to Iraq, made any remarks as dramatic as that? If so, we've missed them. The suggestion may be over the line, but it's probably one to which McCain will force Obama to respond.

-- Why all the talk about John McCain's campaign today? Because Obama's team has a lead and is sitting on it. Take a look at the battlegrounds both candidates need for a win: Obama leads by four points or more in Colorado, Ohio and Virginia, by three points in Florida and Nevada and by a fraction of a percent in Missouri. Win one of those states and the White House is his. Win four or five and a landslide is in the offing. With reports of 300 paid staff and 100,000 volunteers in a state like Florida, as Marc Ambinder reports, we're starting to buy into Obama's field program being something we've never seen before.

-- Meanwhile, given the recent economic news, either a President Obama or a President McCain will have to work with an expanded Democratic majority in Congress. That instability in the markets, the New York Times' Hulse and Herszenhorn write, are giving Democrats new chances at previously safe Republican House and Senate seats. But don't take their word for it, take Chuck Schumer's, as the DSCC chief says his party's chances of getting to a filibuster-proof 60 seats are getting better, Josh Kraushaar and I wrote yesterday. Even our top 50 House races, which we've updated today, show a dramatic shift toward Democrats.

-- Harsh Reality Of The Day: If one believes David Brooks, Sarah Palin may be a "fatal cancer to the Republican Party" during an interview with the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg celebrating the magazine's redesign, the Huffington Post reports today. Brooks and Kathleen Parker are the two loudest conservative critics of Palin, making one wonder just how far GOP discontent over her selection truly goes.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama kicks off his American Jobs Tour with stops in Dayton, Cincinnati and Portsmouth, Ohio, while running mate Joe Biden treks through St. Joseph, Liberty and Jefferson City, Missouri. McCain and running mate Sarah Palin are campaigning together in Waukesha, Wisconsin before McCain holds his own rally in Mosinee and Palin heads to Wilmington, Ohio.

NJ 03: Myers (R) +3

State Senator John Adler, a Democrat, was supposed to have the inside track on retiring Rep. Jim Saxton's south New Jersey district. A new poll suggests Republicans have a good shot at keeping the seat. The Monmouth University poll, conducted 9/30-10/2, surveyed 430 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.7%. Adler and businessman Chris Myers were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Myers......44 / 4 / 79 / 40
Adler......41 / 79 / 9 / 37

Obama......46 / 86 / 6 / 45
McCain.....43 / 4 / 87 / 41

Myers has a big lead in Republican-leaning Ocean County, while Adler has a smaller lead in larger and more independent Burlington and Camden Counties. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, but undecided independents will decide the race.

MN: Franken +4

The economic crisis seriously hurt Republican Norm Coleman, two new polls from Minnesota Public Radio show. The polls were conducted 9/29-10/1 among 346 likely voters (+/- 5.3%) and 10/3-5 among 418 likely voters (+/- 4.8%). Coleman, Democrat Al Franken and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley were tested.

General Election Matchup
(10/5 / 10/1)
Franken........41 / 31
Coleman........37 / 40
Barkley........14 / 14

Coleman's lead evaporated as the Senate and House approved economic stabilization legislation. Are ads explaining his vote in favor of the measure far behind?

Strategy Memo: Stalemate

Good Wednesday morning. After two chaotic and nerve-wracking days on Wall Street, expect at least a little good news today after the Fed cut the interest rate to 1.5%, a half-point drop. Then again, there isn't much left to cut these days. Here's what Washington is watching after today:

-- What the Music City Mayhem voters were supposed to see after a week of increasingly bitter shots between Barack Obama and John McCain simply didn't materialize. The words "William Ayers" or "Charles Keating" didn't make a lasting impression on anyone. The few zingers that either launched went largely unnoticed. And save for a very few moments -- we count two for each candidate -- nothing really happened. For the third straight debate, news just didn't show up (One might argue this is the tenth straight debate, going back to Al Gore's sighing in his first debate in 2000).

-- That's, essentially, a win for Barack Obama. Not only do insta-polls show Obama winning over more independent voters than McCain, but McCain didn't do anything to change the narrative, and that means Obama's decisive and, Republicans have to fear, hardening lead in the polls won't be shaken. Some expectations for the expectations-setters: Over the next week leading up to the final debate at Hofstra University in New York, pundits will go nuts over the possibility of a truly hard-hitting brawl they think is McCain's only chance to change the narrative and get a lead back.

-- McCain's best moments came when he was alternately sharp and focused on policy. At one point, McCain offered a new plan to keep families in houses that would otherwise be foreclosed upon -- a plan his campaign had yet to release -- that could serve him well among the Reagan Democrats he needs to pull in order to deprive Obama of a win. Politico has details of the American Homeownership Resurgence Plan. His other hot moment: Referring to Obama as "that one" when talking about Obama's vote for a 2005 energy bill. The Obama campaign called it odd, ABC News reports, but Republican strategists tell Ben Smith it'll end up as the line of the night.

-- Obama's highlight was more personally powerful than anything McCain mentioned (Did he cite his time as a prisoner of war? Come to think of it, we can't recall a moment in which he did). Delving into health care policy, Obama again relayed the story of his mother dying of cancer and filling out insurance forms at the same time. Some voters will know what that's like, and that could be the powerful connection Obama has been criticized for lacking so far. Obama also took a shot at McCain for obscuring the record on taxes in what had to be a pre-planned, and yet well-delivered, line: "Senator McCain, I think the Straight Talk Express lost a wheel on that one," Obama said on the tax debate, per The Swamp's Mark Silva. As McCain does his best to portray Obama as an outsider, Obama's best punch back is to portray the maverick as just another politician.

-- So what happened to the impending attacks McCain was going to lob, and to the tough responses Obama would have given? McCain has not been happy with the sort of campaign he's had to run so far this year, his friends tell Politico's Mike Allen, and that's making the senator snap at reporters and advisers more than usual. And if McCain doesn't like going after Obama's, or anyone's, character, he might want to reevaluate the attack his campaign seems prepared to launch surrounding William Ayers and Jeremiah Wright. There's plenty about Obama to go after -- taxes, health care, foreign policy, to name a few issues on which the two can draw contrasts -- but it's a waste of McCain's time to focus on the little stuff.

-- McCain's campaign is watching the same phenomenon Hillary Clinton's campaign saw during the primaries. Both nominees are qualified candidates, but Obama has a luck behind him that few can match. In the primaries, there is no way Obama would have won the change versus experience argument in any other year. This year, change is the mantra, and he beat out the experience. In the general, McCain would probably win if the debate were about experience, or even about foreign policy (At least it would be a nail-biter). But when it's about the economy, and the Dow drops 1,700 points in the two weeks between debates, as the New York Times' Frank Bruni writes, and when it's about change, it's hard not to see Obama's inherent advantages and to wonder if, maybe, the race is already over.

-- The signs of Obama's campaign trail ambitions continue the day after the debate, with the candidate headed to Indianapolis for a rally at the state fairgrounds. The last time a Democrat visited Indiana during the October stretch run was ... we can't seem to find Franklin Roosevelt's travel schedule, but it seems unlikely that Lyndon Johnson's Rose Garden campaign of 1964 would have taken him through Indiana. In 2004, the state went to President Bush by 21 points. If it swings blue this time, it will be virtually impossible for McCain to reach 270 electoral votes.

-- Distance Of The Day: So how many times did the candidates beat up on President Bush and Vice President Cheney? It sure sounded like McCain took on the current White House residents, who happen, last time we checked, to be members of his own party, more than Obama did. That energy bill "that one" voted for? "Sponsored by Bush and Cheney," McCain said. The Times' Adam Nagourney also pointed out McCain's shout-out to Democratic Senators Russ Feingold and Ted Kennedy, noting the distance McCain still needs to build between his GOP and the old Republican Party that voters despise.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama's only stop today is at the fairgrounds in Indianapolis, while McCain joins running mate Sarah Palin for rallies in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Strongsville, Ohio before appearing jointly on Hannity and Colmes. Joe Biden is at a community event in Tampa before heading to Fort Myers this evening. Michelle Obama does the media rounds today, starting with a rally in Keene, New Hampshire followed by appearances on Larry King Live and The Daily Show.

GA Sen: Chambliss (R) +1

If Democrats want to get to 60 Senate seats, they'll have to be at least competitive in Georgia. A new poll suggests they may just be.

The poll, conducted by Research 2000 for DailyKos, surveyed 600 likely voters between 9/29-10/1 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Senator Saxby Chambliss and ex-state Rep. Jim Martin were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Chambliss....45 / 13 / 77 / 42 / 48 / 42
Martin.......44 / 78 / 11 / 46 / 41 / 47

The race hasn't been close in earlier polls, but Georgia may be feeling the effects of the recent economic downturn. September's market turmoil could give Martin at least a chance to scare Chambliss.

NM 01: Heinrich (D) +2

Republican Heather Wilson had a tough time keeping her Albuquerque-based seat in 2006, and a new poll suggests the GOP nominee to replace her will face more of a challenge.

The poll, conducted by Research & Polling Inc. for the Albuquerque Journal, surveyed 400 likely voters between 9/29-10/2 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Albuquerque City Councilman Martin Heinrich, the Democrat, and Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, the Republican, were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Wht / His)
Heinrich........43 / 65 / 11 / 47 / 38 / 51
White...........41 / 18 / 75 / 31 / 47 / 32

Despite his more fragmented base, Heinrich's lead among Hispanic voters, who make up 43% of the district, could put him over the top. That would be an impressive feat after Heinrich, who is white, beat several Hispanic-surnamed candidates in his primary election.

FL 18, 21, 25: GOP Leads

Time to debunk the myth of the Cuban voter flocking to the Democratic Party. The GOP still has a solid grasp on Cuban-Americans, but the rise to power of non-Cuban Hispanics could dramatically alter the South Florida political landscape in coming years. New independent polls of three majority-Hispanic districts in South Florida show that tipping point isn't quite here yet.

The polls, conducted by the McDonald Group for Telemundo 51 in Miami, surveyed 300 voters per district between 9/27-10/1 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. In the state's Eighteenth District, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo were tested. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and the former Democratic mayor of Hialeah, Raul Martinez, were tested in the Twenty-First District. And Twenty-Fifth District Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was tested against former Miami-Dade County Democratic chairman Joe Garcia.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Cub / His / Oth)
Eighteenth District

Twenty-First District
L. Diaz-Balart.....48 / 8 / 89 / 32 / 61 / 37 / 39
Martinez.............43 / 83 / 4 / 51 / 30 / 53 / 47

Twenty-Fifth District
M. Diaz-Balart....43 / 7 / 82 / 38 / 59 / 36 / 37
Garcia................41 / 81 / 3 / 44 / 30 / 49 / 41

(Note: "Cub" is Cuban voters. "His" is non-Cuban Hispanic voters. "Oth" is all other races. Full results for the Eighteenth District will be released on tonight's newscast)

Cuban voters still overwhelmingly favor Republicans, but other Hispanic voters are helping Democrats make up the difference.

Strategy Memo: A Night In Nashville

Good Tuesday morning. Exactly four weeks from today, polling places will be open. There's a long way to go until then. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- It's all about the Belmont. Well, Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, where Barack Obama and John McCain meet tonight for their second debate, a town hall-style meeting that could become a good deal fiestier than their first meeting a few weeks ago. The two candidates spent yesterday talking more about their opponent than they did about themselves, and McCain's promise to take the gloves off with just a month to go virtually guarantees face-to-face attacks, writes the San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marinucci.

-- Both McCain and Obama promised to make their races about more than the slash and burn politics of the past. That was then. This is October, when both candidates have thrown caution to the wind in attacking the other, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney writes. In fact, McCain and Obama are both running as challengers, trying to make the race about the other guy more than about themselves. McCain wants all Americans to know that Obama is "not like us," while Obama hopes everyone gets that McCain is "erratic" and not to be trusted.

-- But what happens if they use those tactics tonight, together? There are pluses and minuses, for sure. First of all, Obama's connection to William Ayers is tenuous at best (Though why do we feel the full story -- nothing devastating but just a few more details -- hasn't come out yet?). McCain's involvement in the Keating Five scandal could, if he tried, actually become a positive for him ("I know the worst of Washington and I spent the next decade trying to fix it; here are my results."). If both candidates use subpar ammunition against each other, it could look shrill and off-putting, something neither wants to become.

-- The debate will be a town hall format, but it won't be as free-flowing as the kinds of town hall meetings we saw McCain take in New Hampshire. The 100 or so questions from the audience will be selected prior to the beginning of the debate, the Sun Times' Lynn Sweet writes, and the moderator -- in this case, NBC's Tom Brokaw -- will not have the ability to ask followups. Add in what Sweet calls the "Lazio rule": Unlike in the 2000 New York Senate contest or in the presidential town hall that year, Obama and McCain will have to stay in their corners as marked on the floor.

-- Back to the attacking for a moment. This time around, it's fair to say McCain started it and Obama went along willingly. In Florida yesterday, Sarah Palin warned supporters that the road to Election Day would be rough, and, writes the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, she's the one making it that way. As McCain launched his own assault on Obama, asking "Who is Barack Obama?", Palin continues her assault both over issues like taxes and energy and over character. "I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America," Palin said.

-- Doesn't it feel like Palin is increasingly pushing the McCain campaign to change strategy? McCain pulled out of Michigan; Palin said she wanted to take another stab at the state. McCain hadn't brought up the connection to Ayers; Palin did. And McCain's campaign has notably stayed away from bringing up the Rev. Jeremiah Wright; Palin says she thinks Wright is fair game. Plus, Palin said in her debate last week that the vice president can do more than the office is currently used for, leading some to wonder whether a Palin vice presidency would be one of the most active and visible in history. Take that as a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon who you're voting for, but does McCain really want to be told what to do by his running mate? We doubt we'd ever see Joe Biden publicly suggest new and different tactics.

-- Then again, perhaps the cynic would suggest Palin is setting up an "I told you so" moment after an election that looks increasingly more favorable to Obama. Obama leads by 5.8 points in the latest RCP Average, and he's got more fundamental strengths, new polls show. Voters trust Obama by wide margins to better handle improving the economy (46%-29%), the mortgage and housing crisis (42%-27%), energy prices (42%-34%) and the crisis on Wall Street (36%-30%), according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. The same poll shows 59% of voters say economic issues are most important to them, with foreign policy and domestic issues trailing at 16% and 15%, respectively. Obama's advantage on the issue of the day may be enough to make some Republicans start thinking about 2012.

-- Margin Of The Day: But Obama can't win if his voters don't show up. Recall James Carville's maxim that another word for a candidate who relies on young and new voters is "loser." But a month out, younger voters still have their enthusiasm, a new analysis by Gallup's Lymari Morales shows. 64% of younger voters have already given a lot of thought to the election, and about 80% say this election is the most important in the last fifty years or the most important ever. If Obama's success at turning out younger voters in the primary can be duplicated in November, another name for a candidate who relies on younger voters might become "president."

-- Today On The Trail: While McCain and Obama finish up their debate prep, Palin is on the trail today, with rallies planned for Jacksonville and Pensacola, Florida as well as Greenville, North Carolina. Michelle Obama has an event planned for Jacksonville, North Carolina. Joe Biden will attend his mother-in-law's funeral today. Finally, at the White House, President Bush will meet and greet members of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams.

CO: Udall +5

Colorado Democrat Mark Udall has endured millions of dollars of abuse in the form of negative advertising, but he could be feeling the effects for the first time. A new poll conducted by Mason-Dixon for the Denver Post surveyed 625 likely voters between 9/29-10/1 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Udall and ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer were tested.

General Election Matchup
Udall.........43 (-4 from last, 8/15)
Schaffer......38 (+1)

The negative tone of the campaign has driven Udall's unfavorable ratings up to 26%, a three-point rise in a month. But the tone has had a more dramatic effect on Schaffer's popularity, as 43% of voters see him unfavorably. That's an 18-point rise in just six weeks.

NM 02: Teague (D) +4

Both parties knew the race for New Mexico's Albuquerque-based First District would be close, but Democrats considered the southern Second District more of a long shot. Now, that conclusion is being rethought.

A Research 2000 poll conducted 9/30-10/1 for DailyKos surveyed 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Democratic businessman Harry Teague and Republican restauranteur Ed Tinsley were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Women)
Teague....47 / 84 / 13 / 51 / 44 / 50
Tinsley...43 / 8 / 77 / 39 / 48 / 38

McCain....49 / 9 / 83 / 48 / 53 / 45
Obama.....42 / 84 / 8 / 41 / 41 / 43

President Bush won the district, being vacated by Senate candidate Steve Pearce, by a 58%-41% margin over John Kerry in 2004.

IL 10: Kirk (R) +6

How long will Barack Obama's coattails extend? Answer that question and you'll know if Mark Kirk will be back to Congress. A new poll conducted by Research 2000 for DailyKos suggests Kirk is in trouble, but still leads his Democratic opponent. The poll, conducted 9/30-10/1, tested 400 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Kirk and 2006 opponent Dan Seals were tested among a sample made up of 35% Democrats, 29% Republicans and 39% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Kirk.....44 / 12 / 81 / 45 / 47 / 41
Seals....38 / 70 / 5 / 34 / 36 / 40

Obama....50 / 83 / 10 / 51 / 46 / 54
McCain...38 / 7 / 78 / 36 / 43 / 33

Kirk (45%) and Seals (43%) have relatively similar favorable ratings, but Kirk's unfavorables (40%) are higher than Seals' (28%), likely thanks to attack ads both Seals and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have run. And Seals will have more ads to run; his campaign announced today it had raised over $700,000 last quarter.

Still, Kirk has a lead despite Obama's strong performance in the district. If Democrats can't knock him off in their own nominee's home state in such a favorable year, they may stop trying in the future.

OH 02: Schmidt (R) +7

Ohio Republican Jean Schmidt never has an easy race, but she looks in better shape this year than in her previous two bids for her suburban Cincinnati district. A Research 2000 poll, conducted for DailyKos, surveyed 400 likely voters between 9/30 and 10/1 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Schmidt and 2006 Democratic nominee Vic Wulsin were tested among a sample of 43% Republicans, 31% Democrats and 26% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Schmidt.....46 / 6 / 77 / 44 / 50 / 42
Wulsin......39 / 82 / 5 / 42 / 37 / 41

McCain......52 / 11 / 83 / 51 / 55 / 49
Obama.......41 / 85 / 7 / 43 / 40 / 42

Schmidt's strength among Republicans may mean those in her district are at peace with her after a rocky few first terms. If they are, Schmidt should consolidate her grip on the seat and fall off Democratic target lists. But the presidential numbers should give Ohio Obama fans hope; McCain's 11-point margin is significantly off President Bush's 28-point margin in 2004.

MN: Franken (D) +9

Republicans have a long and storied history with the Minneapolis Star Tribune's pollsters. The short version: They loathe Minnesota polls. A new survey out over the weekend shows a surprising result in the state's U.S. Senate race, causing tensions to flare up once again.

The poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research, surveyed 1,084 likely voters 9/30-10/2 for a margin of error of +/- 3.7%. Republican Senator Norm Coleman, satirist Al Franken of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley were tested.

General Election Matchup
Franken........43 (+6 from last, 9/12)
Coleman........34 (-7)
Barkley........18 (+5)

Pollsters found Coleman's once-strong job approval rating diving to 38%, the lowest ever measured in the Star Tribune poll, and suggested Franken's lead can largely be attributed to Barack Obama's strength in the state.

Republicans fired back, with Coleman's pollster issuing a memo questioning the Star Tribune's results. The memo points to a SurveyUSA poll from earlier last week that showed Coleman with a ten-point lead over Franken, and to eight of eleven polls that have Coleman ahead.

The Star Tribune poll "is wrong and inaccurate," pollster Glen Bolger wrote, arguing that Democrats were significantly oversampled. "These numbers would be accurate if the Star Tribune had done this poll in New York -- not in Minnesota!"

"Based on our own internal polling, as well as the trend averages of public polls over the past month, it is my opinion that we hold a narrow, but statistically significant lead going into the final weeks of the campaign," Bolger concluded.

Republicans have had problems with Star Tribune pollsters since at least 2002. But the most recent poll over which Republicans cried wolf turned out to be surprisingly accurate. Two Star Tribune polls out in early October and early November 2006 showed then-Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar leading Rep. Mark Kennedy by a 21-point margin. After the Star Tribune took serious beatings from the GOP, Klobuchar won by twenty points.

The paper is using a different pollster now than they did in 2006, but it hasn't stopped Republicans from finding fault with the Star Tribune's numbers. The barely-concealed hatred is bubbling back to the surface.

Strategy Memo: Obama's Field

Good Monday morning. The Redskins are for real, with wins over the Eagles and the Cowboys under their belts. That's good for Republicans; if the 4-1 'Skins win their final home game before an election, the incumbent party will keep the White House. It's been that way ever since 1936, with just one exception: In 2004, Washington lost to Green Bay, which was supposed to portend a John Kerry win. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate will hold a brief pro forma session this morning to prevent President Bush from making any recess appointments. The House is not in session, but California Rep. Henry Waxman will kick off Democratic promises to hold hearings on the recent economic crisis today. Waxman, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has a hearing planned on the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy this morning. President Bush is at a fundraiser for Congressional Republicans in San Antonio, while Vice President Cheney is in New Orleans raising money for freshman Rep. Steve Scalise.

-- About four weeks to go in the race for the White House and Barack Obama has opened up a clear lead over John McCain. Obama has spent most of the general election battle leading by a few points, though nothing statistically significant. Over the past week and a half, that's changed, largely thanks to the economic roller coaster on Wall Street. McCain's campaign is out of Michigan, they admitted Friday, and the Republican finds himself playing defense much more than offense.

-- Consider the electoral map McCain is facing today. He's virtually ceded one state President Bush won in 2004, as no one thinks Iowa is truly competitive. Another Bush '04 state, New Mexico, is guaranteed to be a serious fight (Obama leads the latest RCP New Mexico Average by seven). And the states both campaigns are most focused on include Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida (Check out our cool electoral college map). What do those states have in common? They all voted for President Bush. Twice.

-- Play out the scenario and things look bad for McCain. Obama has leads in states that add up to 264 electoral votes. Of the eight tossup states, if Obama wins only Nevada, the election gets thrown to the House of Representatives after a 269-269 tie. If Obama wins any other state on the list, he wins the election. McCain's only chance of winning is to run the table. The only trouble is, he only leads the latest RCP Averages in two -- Missouri and Indiana -- while Obama sports leads as small as one-half of one point, in North Carolina, and as big as three points, in Ohio and Florida.

-- Over the weekend, both candidates sought to make the race more about Charles Keating and William Ayers than they did about themselves. GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin took after Obama during several fundraisers yesterday, suggesting he is "palling around" with terrorists. That's a reference to Ayers, the Chicago professor who is an unrepentant former member of the Weather Underground and who held an early meet-and-greet for Obama's first campaign for state senate. Obama was about eight years old when the Weathermen were planting bombs, but the connection is more about associating the Illinois senator with someone different. Ayers is white, but even the Associated Press saw racial undertones in Palin's attacks. Intended that way or not, McCain is trying to paint Obama as different.

-- Obama, meanwhile, will remind voters that McCain is no picture of purity either. The maverick reformer got that way after he was swept up in the Keating Five scandal in the late 1980s, the only Republican along with four Democrats to be tagged by the Ethics Committee. Obama will launch a website detailing McCain's involvement in the scandal, Politico's Mike Allen writes today. The rush to deregulation that caused the Savings and Loan scandals, the Obama campaign will argue, is part of what caused today's credit crisis. Forget whether McCain and John Glenn should have been included among the Five to begin with, an admonishment from the Ethics Committee is a lot easier to explain to voters than the reasons why it wasn't fair.

-- McCain backed into an electoral corner. Both candidates questioning the others' character and integrity. That could all but guarantee that Tuesday's debate in Nashville will be much livelier than the first meeting between Obama and McCain, which some called a snoozer. The town hall format should be good for McCain, the Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick writes, and the Arizona senator is preparing especially hard at his home in Sedona, per the Washington Post's Abramowitz and Bacon. But Obama is practicing too, at a resort in North Carolina. It's been a long time since a debate made any actual news, but we have hope for Tuesday.

-- Harbinger Of The Day: Republicans, looking for new electoral votes after pulling out of Michigan, suggest they have a shot in Maine's Second Congressional District, where they could pick up a single electoral vote. But two days after they advanced that theory to explain away the Michigan decision, Palin showed up yesterday at a rally in Omaha, Nebraska, the most heavily-Democratic part of the other state in which electoral votes are allocated by district rather than by a winner-take-all system. Palin said it was her call to hold the rally, reports CBS's Scott Conroy, but it still can't be comforting to the GOP to have Palin spend time in what should be easily Republican territory.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain will briefly interrupt debate prep to rally at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, while Obama is sticking to the preparations. Palin has rallies in Clearwater and Estero, Florida, while Joe Biden is off the trail today, following the untimely passing of his mother-in-law yesterday.

MN: Franken +2

An interactive voice recognition (IVR) poll by Rasmussen Reports showed Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman leading by a big margin, forcing the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to release their own internal poll showing Coleman trailing (Politics Nation has a long-held policy of not running IVR polls, see here for our explanation).

The Democratic poll, conducted by the Mellman Group for the DSCC, surveyed 600 likely voters 9/29-10/1 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Coleman, satirist Al Franken and ex-Senator Dean Barkley were tested.

General Election Matchup

The DSCC wouldn't release information about where Barkley's votes are coming from, but the Independence Party candidate appears to be playing a serious role. Coleman's job approval, according to the Democratic survey, is a miserable 32% excellent or good and 56% only fair or poor. We await the Republican poll in response.

One partisan poll is no proof of one candidate leading or trailing, but the Mellman Group survey does show Coleman's not out of the woods yet.

CO: Udall +7

Rep. Mark Udall keeps his big lead in the Colorado Senate race, according to a new poll by a Colorado-based pollster. The Ciruli Associates poll, conducted for the Economic Development Council of Colorado, tested 501 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Democrat Udall and Republican ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer were tested.

General Election Matchup


Pollster Floyd Ciruli reports Udall has a big lead on the state's Western Slope, a traditionally Republican region of the state where Democrats have recently made big gains at the Congressional and legislative level.

Cole: 'No Benefit For Yea Vote'

"Every member knows there's no political upside to supporting this legislation." -- NRCC Chairman Tom Cole, one of the few members who gets politics outside his district, from the House floor today about the political benefits of the bailout. Cole voted for the bill on Monday.

--Kyle Trygstad

Strategy Memo: No News, Good News

Good Friday morning. Chicago is panicking today, but that has nothing to do with the Obama campaign. Instead, it's all about their Cubbies going down 2-0 in the best of five series with the Dodgers. We know one NBC News political director who's happy about that. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate is finished with their legislative work until after the election while the House still has one important task to take care of. If House leaders are confident they've reached 218 votes, the economic stabilization plan will come to the floor today and end what has been a volatile week on Wall Street on a high note. But whether they actually have those votes is another question altogether. Meanwhile, President Bush is headed to St. Louis today to fundraise for Missouri Rep. Kenny Hulshof, the Republican candidate for governor.

-- Back to the stabilization plan for a moment. House leaders have been picking up support for the bill from the left and right, the AP's Julie Hirschfeld Davis writes, but leadership remains unsure they have the votes to reach the 218 they would need to get it through. Barack Obama helped nudge members of the Congressional Black Caucus on board with phone calls of encouragement, including Rep. John Lewis (Reps. Elijah Cummings and Bobby Rush both said they were on the verge of joining Lewis in switching). Meanwhile, key Republicans like Rep. John Shadegg and Zach Wamp have decided to hold their nose and vote in favor of the measure. John McCain and President Bush were also whipping GOP votes, the AP reported.

-- That takes the number of supporters of the bill critically close to a majority, but all is not finished just yet. The Senate version of the bill, which tacks on about $150 billion in pork projects, could pull in members from the left and right while threatening supporters' hold on centrist, fiscally conservative Democrats, Time's Jay Newton-Small writes. All but three of the 47 Blue Dog Democrats voted for the bill last time, but Blue Dog leaders voiced disgust with the amount of added spending in the bill. Usually key to any major legislative compromise, Blue Dogs may be bypassed this time; keep an eye on them, though, as their influence has seriously grown in recent years.

-- Meanwhile, House and Senate members paused last night to keep an eye on Joe Biden and Sarah Palin's first and only vice presidential debate, a contest that likely drew far more viewers than the matchup between both tickets' presidential contenders. Both Biden, the locquatiously gaffe-prone Democrat, and Palin, the stumbling Republican, faced intense pressure to perform, and in both cases, they seemed to pass very different tests.

-- Palin's test was more critical, and virtually every observer concluded she achieved her goals. Hemorrhaging support after a series of interviews that made her look unprepared to be vice president, much less president, Palin had to deliver a performance that reassured Republicans of her ability while giving a good first impression to the millions of undecided voters who tuned in. With a solid performance, a command of almost all the facts (Don't hold one slip on a general's name against her) and good attack lines hitting Barack Obama, Palin held her own, making news by making no news.

-- It should say something that Palin was able to do so against the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, a job that requires one to be an expert talker. And that she did so on a night in which Biden was more on top of his game than at any time during his own presidential run (Save, perhaps, the notion that Rudy Giuliani's sentence structure is "a noun and a verb and 9/11"). Biden's legendary mouth has gotten him in serious trouble before, but he avoided pitfalls last night and delivered his lines as he was supposed to. Biden's a happy guy, and his constant smiles may have looked awkward at times, but he stayed respectful, never talked down to Palin and demonstrated a clear command of the facts. In all, that's a good night.

-- Worried Democrats were waiting for Babbling Biden, while fretting Republicans watched for what would have amounted to a Dan Quayle-esque moment. Both breathed big sighs of relief when the bell rang. In fact, instead of an elder statesman and an underqualified rookie, like the Lloyd Bentsen-Quayle debate in 1988, Biden and Palin came across as equals who made no news and kept most of the focus on the presidential contenders. That, in the end, is good news for both parties.

-- Observations Of The Day: Palin has a compelling personal story, but Biden's raising his sons by himself is something most voters don't know about. That was a big part of Biden's campaign strategy, and it could return. Both candidates had zingers, with Biden pointing to the "ultimate bridge to nowhere" and Palin accusing Democrats of raising the "white flag" in Iraq, but no one landed a Bentsen-esque punch. Moderator Gwen Ifill helped out Democrats by giving Biden a second chance to link Palin, who said she favors an expanded role for the vice presidency, to Dick Cheney; Biden missed the only opportunity for what could have been a serious blow to Palin the first time around, and by the second time, it was less effective. Finally, when was the last time news actually happened in a presidential debate? Does one have to go back to Al Gore sighing in 2000? For the presidential debate next week in Nashville, Tennessee, let's boycott expectations so we're all truly surprised by what happens.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Abington, Pennsylvania for a rally with supporters, while McCain holds a town hall meeting at Colorado State University in Pueblo. Biden will address his son's military unit today, which is shipping off to Iraq, while Palin fundraises in Dallas and San Antonio.

NC 08: Hayes +3

Forget a Democratic poll showing North Carolina Rep. Robin Hayes trailing his opponent by eleven points; the Republican incumbent released his own survey today showing him with a narrow three-point lead. Given an earlier poll conducted for Hayes' campaign, though, the district is definitely tightening.

The new poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for Hayes' campaign, surveyed 400 likely voters on 9/23 and 9/25 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Hayes and 2006 Democratic nominee Larry Kissell were tested.

General Election Matchup
Hayes......46 (-4 from last, 8/5)
Kissell......43 (+3)

Hayes won by 300 votes in 2006. The rematch doesn't look like the closeness of the contest will change much.

This Says It All

In advance of tonight's vice presidential debate, some Republicans are still infatuated with Sarah Palin, regardless of recent missteps. The latest evidence, spotted on a car here in Washington:

sarah bumper sticker

NC 08: Kissell +11

The economic downturn has hit few places as hard as rural North Carolina, where unemployment is above 10%. With the spotlight on the economy, maybe it's not surprising that a new poll conducted for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has their candidate leading incumbent Republican Robin Hayes by a big margin.

The poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, surveyed 400 likely voters between 9/28-29 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Hayes and 2006 candidate Larry Kissell were tested.

General Election Matchup

In 2006, Hayes won by just over 300 votes. This year, the DCCC has run ads on Kissell's behalf tying Hayes to President Bush and unpopular trade deals like CAFTA.

Strategy Memo: Tipping Point

Good Thursday morning. For the first time in 102 years, both the Cubs and the White Sox are in the playoffs. Chicago fans should be excited, right? Not when the Cubs looked downright pathetic, as they did last night. We'll see how Barack Obama's team fares tonight against Tampa Bay. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House and Senate are back in session to wrap up its legislative business before heading out to campaign. After the economic stabilization package made it through the Senate by a 74-25 margin last night, it will be up to the House to pass it before adjourning and leaving Washington at the end of the week. President Bush is in Washington today with no public events planned save a meeting with business leaders on the financial bailout package.

-- The political world will spend tonight watching the high theater that is the vice presidential debate, wherein two very different candidates will clash over their records, their respective running mates' proposals and their plans for the office often compared to a bucket of warm spit. Each enters the debate with different boxes to check and decidedly uneven amounts of pressure.

-- For Sarah Palin, who has lately undergone what can charitably be described as a bumpy ride, she has to convince voters and pundits that a 44-year-old is qualified to be president, not just vice president. That means Palin will have to flex her muscles on substantive issues while simultaneously offering serious and well-thought-out criticism of Barack Obama. Given the interest surrounding Palin, people will tune in to watch her, meaning the pressure falls squarely on her shoulders.

-- Because of the pressure on Palin, it may be enough for Joe Biden to show up and not trip on his way onto the stage. Actually, Biden's mission is to stay in the background and not make headlines for insulting Palin. Debating a female opponent is a challenge (Just ask Rick Lazio), and Biden is taking that aspect of tonight's meeting seriously; he's reportedly spoken with Senators Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer for advice, the Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick writes, and his plans include referring to and addressing Palin only by her formal title of governor.

-- But no one except his immediate family is tuning in to watch Biden. It's all about Palin, and it's all about her recent interviews, which even diehard Republicans are beginning to admit are becoming a distraction. Not only won't she tell us where she gets her news (Just say Newsweek, or Time, or the Weekly Standard. Really. One name. That would have sufficed.), now Supreme Court cases with which she disagrees are eluding her as well (video here). That's a terrible contrast for the McCain campaign; we're pretty sure former Senate Judiciary Chairman Biden has an answer or two.

-- It's not that Palin doesn't have answers. it's that she makes it look so painful. "Cringe-inducing" is one phrase we've heard Republicans use to describe Palin's performance. Plus, even basic tenets of the Republican platform seem to be lost in translation. Asked by CBS's Katie Couric whether she believes there is an inherent right to privacy in the Constitution -- the argument one makes when agreeing with Roe v. Wade -- Palin responded: "I do. Yeah, I do." It's one thing to not be of Washington, as has become so important this year. It's another thing to simply not know Republican talking points.

-- In fact, Palin, who almost single-handedly put McCain back in front of Obama after the Republican convention, is now becoming a drag on the Republican ticket, the Washington Post's Cohen and Agiesta write today. The latest ABC/Post poll shows about 60% of voters believe Palin does not have the experience to be president, and just 46% say she understands complex issues (49% think she does not). Nearly a third of registered voters say they are less likely to vote for John McCain because Palin is on the ticket (just 13% say they're less likely to vote for Obama because he picked Biden). Palin hasn't sealed her fate yet, and tonight gives her the opportunity to turn the narrative around. But actually doing that is becoming increasingly important.

-- Quote Of The Day: "We've sent a clear message to Americans all over that we will not let this economy fail," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after the economic stabilization bill passed last night. Gee, thanks, Senator. The bill heads back to the House, with a few accoutrements for Puerto Rican rum makers and children's toy manufacturers thrown in for good measure, where it is expected to pass this time around. But could that just irritate more Republicans still seething over their party's lack of fiscal responsibility?

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Grand Rapids before heading to a rally in East Lansing as new polls show the Democrat leading by 6.6 points in the latest RCP Michigan Average. Michelle Obama is making her own swing through Michigan, with stops in Saginaw and Clinton Township. McCain has a town hall meeting set for Denver, Colorado, a state in which he trails Obama by five points in the latest RCP Colorado Average.

McClintock Fires Back

Don't count out State Senator Tom McClintock just yet. The California Republican is leading his race to replace Rep. John Doolittle after all, according to a new poll conducted for his campaign.

The poll, conducted by Cal State-Sacramento Professor Val Smith for McClintock's campaign, surveyed 400 likely voters between 9/22-24 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. McClintock and retired Air Force officer Charlie Brown were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Ind)
McClintock.......47 / 37
Brown............39 / 48

The results, according to the polling memo, also show both candidates attracting 72% of their party base. Those numbers are consistent with the most recent public poll in the race, conducted at approximately the same time, by Research 2000, though Brown attracts a little more Democratic support than McClintock attracts Republican support in that poll.

In the Research 2000 poll, Brown also has a healthy 49%-33% lead among independent voters. But the survey for McClintock has the Republican leading, thanks in most part to the overwhelming number of Republicans in the district. Democrats may question whether McClintock's poll oversampled GOP voters in the district.

Strategy Memo: Date To Debate

Good Wednesday morning. Barack Obama's White Sox are playoff-bound after a tough 1-0 win over the Minnesota Twins last night. Does he dare go root against the Tampa Bay Rays in the first round? Lots of Democratic votes in the Tampa Bay area. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate is in session today, unlikely to take votes until this evening, when Rosh Hashana ends. The House remains out of session until tomorrow. President Bush meets with a top NATO commander overseeing Afghanistan today, then delivers remarks to the annual USO gala at a hotel here in Washington. At the Pentagon, Defense chief Robert Gates participates in the activation of U.S. Africa Command, the first time the continent has been under its own separate jurisdiction.

-- When the sun goes down tonight, the Senate will take up its own version of the $700 billion bailout plan, with new provisions raising the amount the FDIC will insure in personal bank accounts and including a spending bill the House didn't pass on Monday as well, CNNMoney reports. John McCain, Barack Obama and Joe Biden are expected to be there this evening to vote. Senate votes are easier to count than House votes, so don't expect a repeat of Monday's surprise fireworks.

-- With the bailout package looking more likely to pass the second time around, it's time to turn back to politics. About thirty-six hours from now, Biden and Sarah Palin will sit down across from each other to debate in what could turn out to be the most-watched moment of the entire campaign. Nielsen reported Monday that 52.4 million viewers saw the first presidential debate, ten million fewer than watched the first debate between John Kerry and George Bush, but there's little doubt that the Biden-Palin matchup will be a lot more interesting than John Edwards and Dick Cheney.

-- This also feels like an impending turning point in a race that's had more than a few. In general, vice presidential picks don't matter all that much, but this year they do. They say the vice presidential pick is the first truly presidential decision the candidates make, and tomorrow night those choices will be on display. Could the contrast between the two candidates further open up what is becoming a bigger and more evident lead for Obama, or will Palin turn around her recent and disappointing public image to thrill the crowd like she did in St. Paul? The answer to that question may very well determine the winner in November.

-- The contrasts are stark: The senior statesman with all the verbage in the world, the old joke is that the most dangerous place in Washington is between Joe Biden and a camera. Then there's the bright young energetic woman (much as we'd like age and gender not to be factors, they are) of whom so little is known. Both candidates are gaffe-prone, and their strategies tomorrow night will be designed to minimize those errors while pushing their would-be bosses on an intently-watching electorate.

-- Biden's strengths are clear. He's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, an experienced debater and negotiator with as much policy background as anyone in the Senate. But he just can't help sticking his feet in his mouth, as when he called Obama "clean" during the primaries, or suggested that anyone entering a convenience store have a "slight Indian accent." Democrats should be worried about that "spontaneity," as the New York Times calls it today, might get Biden in trouble, especially if he appears in any way condescending toward Palin.

-- Palin's strengths are less obvious. While it's clear she could beat Biden on energy and gas questions -- polls show more Americans favoring domestic oil production than not -- it's less clear how well anyone knows what she's going to say. On domestic issues, McCain was thin in Friday's debate, focusing almost exclusively on cutting spending (he barely even mentioned his own tax plan). Will Palin expand upon that general theme in order to broaden McCain's appeal? On foreign policy, see above. No matter how much prep time she gets, how does one prepare Palin to debate the chair of that very committee?

-- Trooper Of The Day: One person likely to earn criticism no matter what happens is Gwen Ifill, of PBS, who will moderate the meeting between the two. The McCain campaign has already started suggesting Ifill is too liberal and virtually warned her not to ask Palin questions about foreign policy. But Ifill signed up for that part. What she didn't sign up for was a busted ankle, which she sustained on Monday while carrying a load of research materials up the stairs at her home. Ifill will still host the debate, and as one with recent experience with that particular injury, we only hope she heals quickly and painlessly.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama kicks off his day in La Crosse, Wisconsin with a rally before heading back to Washington for the Senate vote. McCain will give a speech on the economy at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri before coming back to vote for the first time in months. Bill Clinton kicks off his campaigning for Obama with events in Orlando and Fort Pierce, Florida, while Michelle Obama has her own rallies planned for Boulder, Colorado and Kansas City.