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October 2012 Archives

WASHINGTON--Are Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania really in play this close to the election? Is Mitt Romney expanding his path to 270 electoral votes? Obama senior adviser David Axelrod says no--and made a bet with MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Wednesday that he would shave his moustache of 40 years if Obama failed to win those states.

After Scarborough contended the map is expanding for Romney on the Wednesday show, Axelrod disputed him saying, "here's what is true. In the era of super PACs, there's a lot of money out there and people can take flyers on states that they don't necessarily think they're going to win. I'm telling you Joe, with all due respect to the public polls that are out there, they are all over the map. I can only rely on the information that I have that I count on, that is solid research.

"I will come on "Morning Joe" and I will shave off my mustache of 40 years if we lose any of those three states."

Scarborough clarified, "So if you lose Minnesota, Michigan or Pennsylvania, you will shave off that mustache?"

Axelrod agreed to do the deed on the show and added a provision for Scarborough: "Yes, but what I should do is make a deal with you, is that you'll grow one if we win them."

Said Scarborough, "But I will grow a mustache if you guys win Florida or North Carolina. How's that? Is that a deal?

Axelrod clarified, "Florida and/or North Carolina?"

And the deal is made.

WASHINGTON--A Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News Swing State poll released Wednesday showed the contest in Florida and Virginia just about a tie and President Barack Obama ahead of Mitt Romney in Ohio. Women voters are helping Romney close a gap.

FLORIDA: Obama 48 percent, Romney 47 percent
OHIO: Obama 50 percent, Romney 45 percent
VIRGINIA: Obama 49 percent, Romney 47 percent.

For cross-tabs and details, click HERE

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama returns to the campaign trail on Thursday, stumping in battlegrounds Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado after being sidelined by Hurricane Sandy. On Wednesday, Obama is touring New Jersey storm damage with Gov. Chris Christie--with the pair the new odd couple of politics.

Subject to change because of the need to deal with Sandy, Obama does an airport stop at Green Bay and then aims at the youth vote with rallies at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the College of South Nevada in North Las Vegas.

Read my column about Obama and Christie--and other developments in the campaign six days out HERE.

WASHINGTON -- Hurricane Sandy is throwing together President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie six days before the presidential election. Christie, a top Mitt Romney surrogate, praised Obama's disaster response -- changing his tune from last August, when he blasted the president as "nothing more than a Chicago ward politician."

Politics is a lot about perception, and while Obama canceled campaign events so far this week because of the disaster, he will look bipartisan and presidential when he tours the devastated New Jersey shore Wednesday with the bombastic Christie -- while early voting has already started in much of the country. Gallup estimates that 15 percent of registered voters already cast ballots.

Christie said Obama's disaster response was "outstanding" and shared in a series of interviews about how the two men spoke at midnight Tuesday and how Obama offered his personal phone number to call if Christie needed something.

"I have to say the administration, the president himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far. We have a great partnership with them, and I want to thank the president personally for his personal attention to this," Christie told George Stephanopoulos Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

Obama visited the Red Cross headquarters here and later talked to electric utility executives in a conference call to urge them to do everything to get power back on. At the Red Cross, Obama said he is ordering officials "to cut through red tape. I want you to cut through bureaucracy. There's no excuse for inaction at this point. I want every agency to lean forward and to make sure that we are getting the resources where they need -- where they're needed as quickly as possible."

The Obama and Romney campaigns continue to recalibrate in the wake of the monster storm:

♦ Romney stumped near Dayton in battleground Ohio, relabeling his rally a "storm relief event," where supporters brought supplies for hurricane victims. With New Jersey and New York facing massive damages, Romney tried to avoid looking political while not becoming invisible. He's in Florida Wednesday.

The catastrophe revived the matter of how Romney, if president, would overhaul the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as he suggested he might in a June 2011 primary debate. His campaign told me Tuesday Romney would not shut down FEMA but "states should be in charge of emergency management."

♦ First lady Michelle Obama, sidelined in Chicago because of Sandy, on Tuesday visited the Obama for America headquarters in the Prudential Building where she worked the phonebank, calling supporters in Wisconsin. She got briefed on the state of play from top staffers.

I'm told Mrs. Obama was at the HQ between 12:45 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. and at one point delivered a pep talk to hundreds of campaign staffers. She focused her calls at Wisconsin -- where Ann Romney and Paul Ryan both campaigned on Tuesday and where former President Bill Clinton stumps in Eau Claire on Wednesday. On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden and Romney return to the Badger State. Mrs. Obama flew to Chicago Sunday to get ahead of Sandy, sprinted to Iowa for a daytrip Monday and overnighted in the city Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

♦ Ohio remains the premier battleground. While Obama stays focused on disaster relief (as the saying goes, good government is good politics) the Romney and Obama teams exchanged blows over ads Romney is running. The ads assert -- incorrectly -- that Obama policies are leading to Ohio auto industry jobs going to China. The controversy escalated to the point where denials were issued by General Motors and Chrysler.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday whirled through five battleground state interviews in his role as a surrogate for President Barack Obama. He did live remotes via satellite for WWBT in Richmond, Va.; WTMJ, Milwaukee;, WBAY, Green Bay; WFUR, Miami and WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire.

(Obama campaign photo)

WASHINGTON-- First Lady Michelle Obama, sidelined in Chicago because of Hurricane Sandy, on Tuesday visited the Obama for America headquarters in the Prudential Building and did some phone-banking to get-out-the vote in battleground Wisconsin.

I'm told Mrs. Obama was at the HQ between 12:45 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. and at one point delivered a pep talk to hundreds of campaign staffers. She focused her calls at Wisconsin--where Ann Romney and Paul Ryan both campaigned on Tuesday.

I'm also told Mrs. Obama "thanked staff and volunteers, and wanted "to encourage them to keep up their great work through the homestretch. She also joined volunteers to make a few calls to supporters and learned about the President's early voting advantage in battleground states from senior campaign leadership."

Mrs. Obama spent Sunday and Monday nights in Chicago and will overnight again on Tuesday. She flies back to Washington on Wednesday morning. My post on Mrs. Obama flying to Chicago to get ahead of Hurricane Sandy is HERE.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) stumped in Ohio for President Barack Obama on Tuesday, targeting fellow Catholics in the battleground state where Obama is tied with Mitt Romney.

This was Durbin's second Ohio trip in the last two weeks. Durbin is in a unique position to talk about Obama, taking him under his wing when he was running in the 2004 general election for an Illinois Senate seat. Durbin was one of the first to urge Obama to run for president.

Durbin's Tuesday stops: In Cincinnati, Catholics for Obama phone banking, canvassing, get-out-the-vote drive and a talk to College Democrats at Xavier University a Jesuit, Catholic school. Also, in Dayton, another Catholics for Obama event, plus a number of Ohio radio interviews.

Last weekend, Mayor Rahm Emanuel targeted fellow Jews in Ohio; the weekend before that, he shored up the Jewish vote in Florida, another battleground.

Watch The Digital Campaign on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Wonder why you got that call, direct mail or social media pitch for a candidate? It's part of the data driven digital campaigns where research is king.
For a look at how it works, the PBS NEWSHOUR Correspondent Hari Sreenivasan helped create The Digital Campaign.

(Sun-Times video by Jon Sall)

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama will tour Hurricane Sandy damage on Wednesday with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie--and while off the campaign trail will be making a very presidential statement--helping one of his harshest critics recover from the storm.

Christie, who bashed Obama as a Chicago ward politician last August, had praise for him Tuesday in the wake of the disaster.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney heads to Tampa later today.

Obama at Red Cross headquarters

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WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama is visiting the Red Cross headquarters in Washington D.C. in the wake of Hurricane Sandy...developing...remarks to come. Obama also called mayors and governors all along the east coast hit by the storm.

Who was called, according to the White House...


North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue

Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Delaware Governor Jack Markell

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett

New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick

Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin

New Hampshire Governor John Lynch


District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray

City of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter

City of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

City of Newark Mayor Cory Booker

Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy

Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate

National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Rick Knabb

The President was joined in the Situation Room by Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security John Brennan, Press Secretary Jay Carney, Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Richard Reed, White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs David Agnew, Deputy Communications Director Jen Palmieri, and other senior members of the President's team.

WASHINGTON--New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie-- ferocious critic of President Barack Obama--who bashed him last August as "nothing more than a Chicago ward politician"--is praising him Tuesday for his Hurricane Sandy assistance to his storm battered state.

Christie, a major surrogate for Mitt Romney, is providing a testimonial to Obama a week before the election. Obama called Christie last night--as he did other New York and New Jersey officials who are dealing with the disaster.

"He called me last night around midnight, again, to say -- ask what else could be done and what we did last night. He was able to move forward very quickly with a major disaster declaration for New Jersey. He worked on that last night with me, offered any other assets that we need to help," Christie told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"i have to say the administration, the president himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far. We have a great partnership with them, and I want to thank the president personally for his personal attention to this."

The day before Christie keynoted at the Republican National Convention he told the California delegation, "The president is nothing more than a Chicago ward politician," he said. ..."We've had enough of Chicago ward politics in the Oval Office. We need a real leader back in the Oval Office and we all got to work to get Mitt Romney there."

My column on Christie bashing Obama and Chicago is HERE.

WASHINGTON--Planned Parenthood's Action Fund--it's political arm--released a new video Tuesday aimed at the female vote and staring singer songwriter Mary J. Blige, actress Julianne Moore, and recording artist Q-Tip. The title, "Yes We Plan" is a play on the 2008 campaign slogan "Yes We Can." Music by Bryan-Michael Cox.

Rahm early votes on Tuesday

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WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama scratched stumping in battleground Ohio on Wednesday to remain at the White House to deal with the impact of Hurricane Sandy.

WASHINGTON--Hurricane Sandy has knocked First Lady Michelle Obama off the campaign trail for Tuesday. She stumped in Iowa on Monday and overnighted in Chicago--where she was also scheduled to be on Sunday night. Mrs. Obama's office said she has no public events on Tuesday and will overnight in Chicago.

President Barack Obama is at the White House on Tuesday and will be off the trail on Wednesday as well.

WASHINGTON -- The close contest between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama is frozen.

This historic pre-election monster storm takes politics into an all new zone of the unknown as the news cycle is saturated with hurricane coverage -- and not the latest back-and-forth between Romney and Obama or their surrogates.

The Romney and Obama teams are proceeding with caution. The worst thing is to be seen as doing politics in the midst of a disaster.

That's why Obama and Romney pulled back on the campaigning Monday and canceled events for Tuesday. What they do from now on is a day-by-day call.

Here are five ways Hurricane Sandy is affecting the campaign:1. The campaign itself is over. The election is a week from Tuesday, so there are not many days the men can use to make up canceled appearences. It's unlikely that either will be stumping again in two battlegrounds where the storm is hitting, New Hampshire and Virginia.

2. Romney doesn't get to deliver his final arguments. For Romney, the quick swing of the press from the election to the hurricane slows down what had been a swelling media narrative that he is winning -- and has momentum on his side.

The freeze comes as Romney is more forcefully arguing that he's the agent of change -- appropriating Obama's 2008 campaign theme. "And I'm very proud of the fact that our team has worked very hard to focus on what we will do to bring real change, big change to a country that badly needs it," Romney said Monday in Avon Lake, Ohio.

3. Obama steps back into his role as president, not candidate. This comes as polls indeed show trends in Romney's favor. ABC News on Monday night moved Pennsylvania and Minnesota from "safe" states for Obama to "lean" for the president. The Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll out Monday had a 49-49 national tie.

After Obama's White House news briefing on federal storm preparations, he was asked, "What about the impact on the election, sir?

Obama said: "I am not worried at this point about the impact on the election. I'm worried about the impact on families, and I'm worried about the impact on our first responders. I'm worried about the impact on our economy and on transportation. The election will take care of itself next week."

4. Early voting may end up playing to Obama's advantage. Though Romney's turnout operation is deeper than was Sen. John McCain's in 2008, the Obama team has been living and breathing the ground game. If the storm blows by quickly -- and power is restored -- lost early voting time can be made up.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Monday, "We continue to believe that, on the ground, we're going to be able to turn out our voters in these final days. We feel very good about our ground game. We just want everyone up there and across the country to be very safe."

5. The Friday jobless numbers -- the last report before Election Day -- may fade in importance as the nation grapples with the fallout from Hurricane Sandy. While most federal offices in Washington were closed Monday and were to remain shut Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said it was its "intention" to release October's report Friday.

WASHINGTON--As Hurricane Sandy raged through the east coast and beyond Monday night this is what President Barack Obama was doing, according to a White House official:

"Throughout the night, the President was updated on the impacts of Sandy as it came ashore and moved inland. Overnight the President also spoke with New York Governor Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Christie, New York City Mayor Bloomberg, Jersey City Mayor Healy and Newark Mayor Booker. The President will also receive another briefing this a.m.

"Overnight the President also provided major disaster declarations for the states of New Jersey and New York - building on resources already available - and providing additional federal support for state and local efforts, as well as direct federal assistance to affected individuals in declared counties."

Updated with Duckworth react....

WASHINGTON--Outside groups are spending millions of dollars in Illinois House races with the most, so far, in a hotly contested race in central Illinois and the least in the Chicago area battle between Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) and Democrat Tammy Duckworth, according to Federal Election Commission records.

It appears that Duckworth's lead in the north/northwest suburban district has convinced outside groups--overall-- to keep their spending down. A close race between Rep. Bobby Schillling (R-Ill.) v Democrat Cheri Bustos in a district anchored near Peoria has spurred a spending war.

The FEC requires outside groups to report independent expenditures for or against a candidate. Outside spending is separate than money raised for a candidates' campaign. Independent expenditures consist of spending by individuals, groups, political committees, unions or corporations.

Under the rules, "these expenditures may not be made in concert or cooperation with or at the request or suggestion of a candidate, the candidate's campaign or a political party," according to the FEC.

With the election this close, spending above $1,000 must be reported to the FEC on a daily basis. The money is not divided equally. Duckworth spokesman Anton Becker said, "the ratio of outside spending is 10 to 1 against us and for Joe Walsh. I don't think the ratio is that one sided in the other races."

Here is the top spending in the most contested Illinois House races as of Monday, according to the FEC:

8th Congressional District, Walsh v Duckworth

10th Congressional District, Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) v Democrat Brad Schneider

11th Congressional District, Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) v former Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.)

12th Congressional District, Democrat William Enyart v Republican Jason Plummer

13th Congressional District, Democrat David Gill v Republican Rodney Davis

17th Congressional District, Rep. Bobby Schillling (R-Ill.) v Democrat Cheri Bustos

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaking at the Jewish Federation of Broward County, Daniel D. Cantor Senior Center in Sunrise, Florida on Oct. 21, 2012. Seated, to his left, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fl.) chairman of the Democratic National Committee (photo by Lynn Sweet)

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mitt in hebrew.jpeg

WASHINGTON -- Mayor Rahm Emanuel does not often invoke his middle name. In shoring up the Jewish vote for President Barack Obama, it helps.

"I, Rahm Israel Emanuel, would not be here if I had a doubt or a sliver of a doubt about this president's commitment to the security and the safety of the state of Israel," Emanuel told a crowd of mostly seniors who filled a chandeliered ballroom in the clubhouse at Huntington Lakes, an "active adult" gated condo community in Delray Beach, Fla.

"I would not be here if I had a doubt. I wouldn't work in that office if I had a doubt," Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, said last Monday.

In the closing days of a contest in which Mitt Romney and Obama are locked in a tight race, both campaigns and their allies are heavily targeting Jewish voters in crucial battleground states.

Jews register, turn out

The national Jewish vote is tiny -- in 2008 a bit less than 2 percent -- but it went 74 percent for Obama, according to exit polls. Republicans are trying to grab some of those points.

Jewish political power is magnified because of political contributions from Jews -- especially on the high end -- and because Jews register and turn out. In this election, there are concentrations of Jews in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Nevada -- enough to fight over.

According to projections by Ira Sheskin, the director of the University of Miami's Jewish Demography Project, about 6 percent of the Florida vote will be Jewish, 3 percent in Ohio and close to 4 percent in Nevada. "Quite clearly, switching 5 percent of the Jewish vote from the Democrats to the Republican can make a significant difference," Sheskin told me.

"Part of a presidential election is not only getting your voters to turn out but holding down the other guy's margins," Tevi Troy, a senior Romney adviser, told me.

The Obama campaign is using Emanuel to appeal to Jewish voters in the crucial battleground states of Florida and Ohio, where he is stumping Saturday and Sunday. Among Emanuel's Jewish-themed events is a brunch with Jewish community leaders in Akron.

Emanuel's father immigrated to Chicago from Israel, and his older brother, Ezekiel, was born in Israel. The Chicago-born Emanuel told me he spent summers in Israel as a youth, between 1967 and 1973.

Last Sunday, in South Florida, Emanuel packed the large sanctuary at Beth Am, a Reform synagogue near Miami, and then headed to the Daniel Cantor Senior Center in Sunrise, where he double-teamed with Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) on her home turf.

At each stop, Emanuel invoked the name of Israeli Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak (with whom he met at City Hall on Sept. 20) as vouching for Obama as the "best president" Israel has had. Condo neighbors saying something else? Said Emanuel, "you better tell" Barak "he's all wet" and "somehow you know more than he does."

For Emanuel, it's about the pushback.

Romney team aggressive

The Romney team has been making a concerted effort to peel off Jewish voters -- focusing on a message that Obama has "thrown Israel under a bus." Hitting Obama on Israel is designed to plant doubts among an overwhelmingly Democratic voting bloc -- with many voters who also care very much about Medicare, Social Security, other social safety-net programs and abortion rights.

"Obama . . . Oy Vey!! Had enough?" blare 10 billboards in southern Florida paid for by the Republican Jewish Coalition, part of a $6.5 million drive to bolster Romney. In 2008, the coalition spent only about $1 million to try to defeat Obama.

Obama, like every U.S. president before him, is pro-Israel. The complaints I heard over and over in Florida had to do a lot with strategy and tactics -- should Obama have visited Israel when he was in the region in 2009 -- or developed a warmer relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? There is worry about Iran's ability to launch a nuclear strike against Israel.

By the way -- on that matter of visiting Israel: former President Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush never went; his son, George W. Bush, traveled there in his eighth year as president.

Last Wednesday, at a Romney campaign office in Boca Raton, I talked to Burt Simon, a retired electrical contractor -- raised in Chicago, a Senn High School graduate -- a political independent who voted for John McCain in 2008. "I thought he snubbed Bibi," Simon said, using Netanyahu's nickname. "And I thought he should have visited Israel when he was in the Middle East."

Back at the condo clubhouse in Delray Beach, Obama campaign volunteer Nate Smith, a Boynton Beach retiree who came to hear Emanuel, told me he was worried because "too many Jewish people do not believe Obama is a friend of Israel."

Smith asked Emanuel during his talk, "How do you get through to these people?"

Both sides send in cavalry

In answering, Emanuel turned to the matter of Obama visiting Israel, to offer up the ammunition to get through: Obama had been to Israel twice before becoming president, Emanuel noted, and "a president goes not as a tourist. A president goes for strategic reasons."

A president does not just drop by.

Emanuel continued, telling the Delray group for Obama, "There are always new bars that are always set. 'You haven't done this, you haven't done that,' you don't feel it in your kishke,' said Emanuel, using the Yiddish word for gut.

Both campaigns are doing massive Jewish outreach in Florida and Ohio, sending in squads of surrogates.

The Republican Jewish Coalition's chief, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.); former Bush White House Secretary Ari Fleischer, and coalition executive director Matt Brooks are hitting Ohio on Monday, Nevada on Tuesday, and Florida at the end of the week.

". . . They can send Rahm Emanuel or whatever surrogates they want out there, but Jewish voters know there has not been the same warm relationship between the U.S. and Israel under this administration," Troy said.

Obama and Romney had a sharp exchange last week -- at their final debate in Boca Raton -- on Israel with Romney critical of Obama not visiting Israel when he was in the region. "By the way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region, but you went to the other nations," Romney said.

In reply -- Obama was primed -- Obama noted that they both visited Israel as presidential candidates and unlike Romney, "I didn't take donors, I didn't attend fund-raisers. I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable."

On Friday, the Obama campaign launched a new ad aimed at Jewish voters, highlighting Obama's response at the Boca Raton debate about the U.S. funding an Israeli missile system, Obama's 2008 Israel visit and sanctions on Iran.

On this, there is agreement: Said the coalition's Brooks: "One thing we know for sure is Jews are going to vote."

WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are scrubbing Monday afternoon and Tuesday events because of Hurricane Sandy. President Barack Obama already canceled Monday and Tuesday events. This puts both campaigns on hold to an extent in the final week before the election.

From the Romney campaign:

"Out of sensitivity for the millions of Americans in the path of Hurricane Sandy, we are canceling tonight's events with Governor Romney in Wisconsin and Congressman Ryan in Melbourne and Lakeland, Florida. We are also canceling all events currently schedule for both Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan on Tuesday. Governor Romney believes this is a time for the nation and its leaders to come together to focus on those Americans who are in harms way. We will provide additional details regarding Governor Romney's and Congressman Ryan's schedule when they are available." -- Gail Gitcho, Romney Communications Director

WASHINGTON--Former President Bill Clinton is on final week sprint for President Barack Obama--who will be loosing campaign days due to Hurricane Sandy. Clinton is stumping for Obama in Florida and Ohio on Monday--here is the rest of his schedule:

From the campaign:
Obama for America announced today that former President Bill Clinton will campaign this week in Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. After joining Vice President Biden for a grassroots event in Youngstown Ohio today, President Clinton will travel to Minnesota for campaign rallies on Tuesday.

President Clinton's trip will include both a mix of battleground states, where he will continue to lay out the choice for the American people in this election, and states with strong Democratic bases, where he will fire up supporters and urge them to help get out the vote for President Obama.

WASHINGTON--Hurricane Sandy has forced President Barack Obama to cancel more campaign activities--on Tuesday--one week before the election--Obama scrubbed a rally in battleground Wisconsin, in Green Bay. Mitt Romney stumps in a Milwaukee suburb on Monday night. Romney tapping Janesville Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate helped put Wisconsin in play.

Tom Bevan, over at is reporting from Wisconsin and asks if the Badger State is the new Ohio. Read the Bevan report HERE.

WASHINGTON--Obama campaign manager Jim Messina and senior adviser David Axelrod are briefing on the state of the race Monday at 11 a.m. est--eight days before the election and as the contest is thrown up in the air because of Hurricane Sandy.

WASHINGTON -- A monster storm is wrecking the last days of the presidential campaign, forcing President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to revamp their closing strategies.

Both campaigns were using their formidable websites and social media tools to urge supporters to contribute to the Red Cross -- a rare unity of purpose and civility that has been otherwise absent in this hard-fought election battle.

Obama spent Sunday partly off the campaign trail, visiting the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters, to check on the progress of Hurricane Sandy, hurling toward the east coast.

News coverage of the campaigns -- and likely ad viewings -- was diminished because of the storm; that might not have a significant impact at this stage since there is so much effort now from both Romney and Obama teams on the get-out-the-vote ground game.

Obama has the most at stake with the election just a week from Tuesday. If his administration is seen as botching a response to the impending disaster -- or if it looks as if he is campaigning instead of working on emergency planning -- it could cost him in his close race with Romney.

"My main message to everybody involved is that we have to take this seriously. The federal government is working effectively with the state and local governments. It's going to be very important that populations in all the impacted states take this seriously, listen to your state and local elected officials," Obama said at FEMA's offices.

"My message to the governors, as well as to the mayors, is anything they need, we will be there. And we're going to cut through red tape. We're not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules. We want to make sure that we are anticipating and leaning forward into making sure that we've got the best possible response to what is going to be a big and messy system."

Romney's campaign suspended fund-raising in the states to be hardest hit by the hurricane: Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey and Maryland, as well as the District of Columbia.

"Gov. Romney's concern is the safety and well being of those in the path of this storm, not political considerations," Romney spokesman Andrea Saul said.

Obama and Romney -- and their spouses and vice presidential running mates -- are focused on a handful of battleground states, and Hurricane Sandy forced them to cancel visits in key markets. Both teams were concerned that showing up in an area bracing for a storm would drain the resources of first-responders. The candidates usually also draw on local officials for security.

Obama on Monday was to have stumped in battlegrounds Florida, Ohio and Virginia with former President Bill Clinton, one of the top draws in the Democratic universe. Obama revised his schedule to fly to Orlando on Sunday to be in place for a Monday rally with Clinton -- in a state where early voting started on Saturday.

Visiting an Obama for America campaign office on Sunday, Obama told the volunteers he had to head back to Washington because "obviously, my first priority has to be to make sure that everything is in place."

In turn, that will put a "bit more burden on folks in the field because I'm not going to be able to campaign quite as much over the next couple of days," Obama said.

Because of the storm, Obama canceled an appearance with Clinton in Prince William County, a Washington suburb. And he scrubbed a stop in Youngstown, Ohio, with Clinton, sending in Vice President Joe Biden as a sub.

To make that work, Biden had to drop an event in battleground New Hampshire, which he would have had to cancel because Hurricane Sandy will be heading that far north.

First lady Michelle Obama was scheduled to spend Sunday night in Chicago; she left the White House on Sunday to get ahead of the hurricane and be in position to stump in Iowa on Monday. She returns to Chicago for Monday night. Her new schedule is a work in progress, with Tuesday stops in New Hampshire and Boston scratched.

An Ann Romney event in New Hampshire on Monday -- and another with her husband in the same state -- was canceled.

Romney stumps in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis on Monday night, hitting battleground Wisconsin -- after stops in Ohio and Iowa -- avoiding any problems from Hurricane Sandy. He will headline the West Allis rally at the Expo Center at the State Fair Park.

Romney joined Paul Ryan on an Ohio bus tour Sunday after scuttling his Sunday Virginia stops because of the storm.

Rahm vs. McCain

Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended Obama on Libya and praised him as a decisive leader on Sunday, after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) again accused Obama of either a "massive coverup or massive incompetence" over the Sept. 11 attacks where four Americans were killed.

Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff and McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008, were guests on CBS' "Face the Nation," where they represented the Obama and Romney campaigns. Emanuel did the interview from Akron, spending the weekend in Ohio stumping for Obama.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama scratched an Orlando rally with former President Bill Clinton on Monday morning, instead flying back to the White House as the wrath of Hurricane Sandy is already starting to be felt on the east coast. Clinton will appear solo for Obama this morning and twin with Vice President Joe Biden later today for a rally in Youngstown, Ohio.

Obama flew to battleground Florida on Sunday to get ahead of Hurricane Sandy and rallied his troops last night at a campaign office where he delivered pizza and a pep talk. By Monday morning, the plan had changed and Obama was winging back to the White House to monitor the storm. A rally with Clinton in northern Virginia had already been cancelled.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama is further cutting back on his campaigning because of Hurricane Sandy, on Monday heading back to the White House after an event with former President Bill Clinton in Orlando, Fl. to deal with the storm. Obama and Clinton were supposed to stump in three battlegrounds on Monday: Florida, Virginia and Ohio. The northern Virginia event is scrubbed and Vice President Joe Biden will appear with Clinton in Youngstown, Ohio.

Statement by the Press Secretary on Additional Changes to the President's Travel on Monday

Tomorrow, the President will return to the White House following his event in Orlando, FL, to monitor Hurricane Sandy, which is currently forecast to make landfall along the Eastern seaboard later tomorrow. The event in Youngstown, OH, will move forward with President Clinton and include Vice President Biden.

The President continues to be regularly updated on the storm. Today, he participated in an operations briefing at the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. During the briefing, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate updated the President on ongoing deployments of teams and resources by federal partners to support state and local responders in potentially affected areas. The President also received an update on the storm from National Hurricane Director Rick Knabb, and later spoke directly with Governors and Mayors from potentially impacted states to ensure there were no unmet needs. The President continues to receive regular updates on the storm, and continues to direct his team to make sure all available resources are brought to bear to support state and local partners.

Waiting for Hurricane Sandy

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(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Getting ready for Hurricane Sandy this afternoon. Broke the glass top of patio table moving it so it would not get blown. Moved planters. Flashlights by the door. Water bottles full. Wind up emergency flashlight and radio (see photo above) handy. Electronic gizmos charged. Taking in rocking chairs off the front porch. Cleared out front gutters.

Will sleep downstairs tonight, in case tree next door falls on the house. Happens all the time here.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama, knocked off the campaign trail by Hurricane Sandy promised local officials a "powerful response" and to "cut through red tape" to give them any assistance needed. He urged all to take the threat of the storm "seriously."

From the White House: While at FEMA the President participated in a briefing with federal partners including FEMA regional directors. In the briefing the President was joined by FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, FEMA Deputy Administrator Richard Serino, Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Richard Reed. Other members of the FEMA leadership team were also part of the briefing. National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb joined by video conference.

Following the briefing, the President joined a call with Governors and Mayors from potentially impacted areas to get an update on preparedness efforts underway in those areas. On that call the President was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Richard Reed, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, Delaware Governor Jack Markell, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray, City of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, City of Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended President Barack Obama on Libya and praised him as a decisive leader on Sunday, after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) again accused the President Barack Obama of either "massive cover-up or massive incompetence" over the Sept. 11 attacks where four Americans were killed.

Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff and McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008, were guests on CBS' "Face the Nation," where they represented the Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns. Emanuel did the interview from Akron, spending the weekend in battleground Ohio stumping for Obama.

McCain, who was interviewed first, turned to Obama's handling of Libya and the shifting explanations of the administration over what happened when the consulate in Bengahzi was attacked. "It is still the -- it is now the worst cover-up or incompetence that I have ever observed in my life," said McCain, who has made that point in previous public appearences.

He added, "I don't know if it's either cover-up or gross -- the worst kind of incompetence which doesn't allow -- it doesn't qualify the president as commander in chief."

Emanuel mounted a defense that echoed Obama administration explanations: "You have an event, a changing event. You don't have people on the ground, in a sense, for that information. The intelligence community, many different apparatuses from military intelligence, national security intelligence, CIA is assembling that information to give you the best picture, and events change," Emanuel said.

Moving on to Obama's foreign policy record, Emanuel said, "At every level of America's foreign policy abroad, in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Mideast is respected because they have seen this president take decisive leadership, take positions that he has executed from Iran to the protection of Israel to changing the war in Iraq and America's foreign policy to rebuilding us at home, reorienting America's resources to the threat coming or the challenge coming from China.

"That is a foreign policy that has made America continue to be the leader of the free world and with its values. And I would actually disagree with what the senator said. And if you look across the waterfront, America's leadership has never been stronger."

kaye wilson, malia, sasha, obama.jpg
Kaye Wilson, Malia, President Obama, Sasha returning from church on Sunday, Oct 28, 2012
(White House photo by Pete Souza)

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama, Malia and Sasha attended church Sunday morning along with Kaye Wilson, who the girls have known forever since she is their godmother from Chicago. First Lady Michelle Obama, who is flying to Chicago Sunday to get ahead of Hurricane Sandy--so she can make her Iowa Monday stop--was not with them because she was getting ready to leave early for her trip, the White House said.

They walked from the White House across Lafayette Park to St. John's Episcopal Church, about a block away.

The Obama family rarely attends public church services; they never picked one Washington church to attend. The White House reminded Sunday that while "they have visited St. John's on a number of occasions, and have also worshipped with many other D.C.-area churches, including 19th Street Baptist Church, the Washington National Cathedral, Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, and Evergreen Chapel at Camp David."

One of the last times the Obama family attended church was Aug. 19; see my post about that visit HERE.

Before that, the last time the Obama family attended church in Washington D.C. was last Easter; read my post HERE.

WASHINGTON--With Hurricane Sandy working its way up the east coast, President Barack Obama on Sunday is off the campaign trail and, after church, will visit the National Response Coordination Center at FEMA Headquarters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is coordinating the federal government response for the monster storm coming in the final week for the election.

From the pool report: "While at FEMA the President will participate in a briefing on the storm and be updated on the ongoing efforts to support local preparedness efforts in potentially affected areas."

WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney stumps in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis on Monday night, hitting battleground Wisconsin--and avoiding any problems from Hurricane Sandy. He will headline a rally at the Expo Center at the State Fair Park. Milwaukee's western suburbs are rich in GOP votes.

On Friday, Vice President Joe Biden was in Kenosha--stopping at a local landmark familiar to a lot of Chicagoans hitting the outlet malls on I-94 or heading home from Lake Geneva: Mars Cheese Castle. Biden was campaigning at the nearby University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama--in a change of plans--will fly to Chicago on Sunday and spend the night in her home town in order, I am told, to get ahead of Hurricane Sandy and make her Monday campaign stops in battleground Iowa. President Barack Obama also scrambled his travel schedule and is leaving the White House Sunday night to stump in battleground Florida with Bill Clinton Monday there and in Ohio. Because of the storm, working its way up the east coast, Obama is canceling his northern Virginia stop with Clinton on Monday in order to return to the White House to monitor developments.

Mrs. Obama is also planning to spend Monday night in Chicago as her schedule is being revised because of the weather. No word yet if she is going to their South Side home.

WASHINGTON--Hurricane Sandy is disrupting the Obama and Romney campaigns' final week sprint, with events scrubbed and the storm impacting early voting in battleground states.

As the colossal storm works its way up the East Coast -- with predictions it could turn inland -- forecasters are issuing dire warnings of days-long power outages, flooding, strong winds, rain, snow and cold temperatures.

On Saturday, President Barack Obama, who stumped in battleground New Hampshire, was briefed on emergency preparations aboard Air Force One, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinated federal assistance to state and local first responders.

As the Eastern Seaboard is braced for the brunt of the storm, Obama is finding his last days of campaigning curtailed to deal with the potential disaster. A Hurricane Katrina-like disaster response -- which haunted former President George W. Bush -- could create an enormous problem for Obama just before the election.

On Saturday evening the White House announced Obama is canceling one of three events with former President Bill Clinton on Monday to return to the White House "to continue to monitor Hurricane Sandy," predicted to make landfall late Monday. Also, a visit to Colorado Springs on Tuesday has also been canceled -- with possible additional scrubs.

"The president will continue to receive regular briefings [on emergency preparations] and has made clear that he expects his team to continue to lean forward as Hurricane Sandy approaches," the White House said.

The battlegrounds most potentially impacted are Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, with the storm possible blowing as far west as parts of Ohio. Extended power outages could curtail early voting place operations.

With Romney and Obama focused on winning the battleground electoral votes, RealClearPolitics estimates Obama still has a slight Electoral College edge, 201 to 191, with 146 electoral votes up for grabs; 270 are needed.

The rundown:

† Romney canceled his Sunday Virginia stops and instead will join running mate Paul Ryan on a bus tour of battleground Ohio.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Friday declared a state of emergency, which influenced Romney's decision to scratch his visit. Campaigning in Kissimmee, Fla., Romney said Saturday, "I was looking forward to being in Virginia tomorrow, but you know the hurricane is headed up there."

Early voting started in battleground Florida on Saturday.

† Biden's Saturday visit to Virginia Beach -- to stump with his wife, Jill, and son Beau Biden, the Delaware attorney general -- was canceled "out of an abundance of caution" so to "all local law enforcement and emergency management resources can stay focused on ensuring the safety of people who might be impacted by the storm."

† Obama's Monday appearance with Clinton in Prince William County, Va., is the one shelved. Obama and Clinton are still booked for Orlando, Fla., and Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday.

† Sandy could head as far north as Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where a rally headlined by first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday at the University of New Hampshire has been canceled. A Boston swing is also canceled.

WASHINGTON -- Hurricane Sandy is disrupting the Obama and Romney campaigns' sprint to the finish as the storm works its way up the East Coast, with events in battleground Virginia already canceled.

With Sandy's main hit expected Monday, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also have to weigh what voters will think if they are on the stump -- and not in the White House.

The storm could have an impact further west -- in another key battleground state, Ohio. High winds have already been blowing through battleground Florida -- where early voting starts on Saturday.

Virginia is in line for a beating. Gov. Bob McDonnell on Friday declared a state of emergency with flooding and widespread power outrages expected starting late Saturday or early Sunday, especially in the eastern part of the state.

With the action in the battlegrounds, Romney is up in Virginia by 1.2 points, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

As RCP is calling it, Obama still has a slight Electoral College edge, 201 to 191 for Romney, with 146 electoral votes up for grabs; 270 are needed to clinch.

The rundown:

† On Friday, Obama was briefed by Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan and National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb on preparations for Sandy. A Katrina-like disaster response could create an enormous problem for Obama just before the election.

† Biden's Saturday visit to Virginia Beach -- to stump with his wife, Jill, and son Beau Biden, the Delaware attorney general -- has been canceled "out of an abundance of caution" so "all local law enforcement and emergency management resources can stay focused on ensuring the safety of people who might be impacted by the storm."

† Romney's Sunday stops in Virginia may not take place because of the storm.

† At least one of Obama's Monday appearances with former President Bill Clinton -- the one in Virginia -- may be at risk. Obama and Clinton are booked in Orlando; Youngstown, Ohio, and in Prince William County, Va., not far from Washington.

† Sandy could head as far north as battleground New Hampshire, where a rally headlined by first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday at the University of New Hampshire has been scrubbed.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel hits battleground Ohio to stump for President Barack Obama on Saturday and Sunday--revving up Obama volunteers and shoring up Jewish votes. Obama's former chief of staff is a headliner on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday morning; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. is also booked on the show to represent the Mitt Romney campaign.

Both Emanuel and McCain stumped for their respective candidates in Florida last week..

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle won't be missing Halloween at the White House--a presidential tradition.

From the White House: "On Wednesday, the President will travel to Cincinnati, Ohio and Akron, Ohio for campaign events. In the evening, the President and the First Lady will welcome local children and children of military families to trick-or-treat at the North Portico of the White House."

WASHINGTON--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was in a traffic accident in Las Vegas on Friday and suffered only minor injuries, his office said.

Reid office statement:

"Senator Reid and his security detail were involved in a traffic accident today
on Interstate 15 in Las Vegas. Senator Reid was taken to University Medical
Center Hospital by his security detail as a precaution, and walked in on his
own. Senator Reid was wearing his seatbelt at the time of the accident. He
experienced rib and hip contusions and has been cleared for release by the
doctors. Mrs. Reid was not in the car at the time of the accident. Some of
Senator Reid's detail and a staffer had minor injuries in the accident and were
evaluated at UMC."

WASHINGTON--For a $150 donation--or even less--to the Obama campaign, a contributor will be entered in a lottery to get "right up front" with President Barack Obama in Chicago on election night.

The latest Obama fund-raising gimmick came Friday in an e-mail from Obama senior strategist David Axelrod, who made the appeal for $150 personal.

Axelrod excerpt...

"I first met Barack Obama in 1992.

"Back before he was a state senator, a candidate, the President of the United States, a husband or a father, he was a 30-year-old guy running voter registration drives in Chicago. He made an impression on me -- and when, in 2007, he decided to run for president, I signed up without hesitation.

"I thought, if I could help Barack Obama get to the White House, I would have accomplished something great in my life.

"Supporters like you, who were with us in 2008, know it's been a long and amazing journey, and our small team of a few became a movement of millions. Now, we're in the final days of his last campaign, fighting to keep Barack Obama in the White House, and he needs your support more than ever. We're planning his last Election Night -- and he wants you to be there.

Donate $150 or whatever you can today, and you'll be automatically entered to meet President Obama and be right up front at his Election Night speech.

"I don't know how this is going to end. But no matter what, I know each of us will have given this campaign everything we've got. ..."

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fl.--At a Thursday morning rally in Tampa, President Barack Obama is jumping on the rape comment by GOP Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock to make an appeal to female voters, saying women "should be making their own health care decisions."

The Obama team is highlighting Mitt Romney's endorsement of Mourdock--and the ad he made for him.

Said Obama, "While we're at it, as we saw again this week, I don't think any politician in Washington, most of whom are male, should be making health care decisions for women. Women can make those decisions themselves. I don't think your boss or your insurance company should be making those decisions. Women should be making their own health care decisions. That's why the health care law we passed put those choices in your hands. That's where it belongs. And that's where it'll stay as long as I am President of the United States."

Colin Powell backs Obama again

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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fl.--Once again, former Secretary of State Colin Powell is endorsing President Barack Obama. The backing of the Republican in 2008 was an important vouch for Obama's military and national security credentials. If Powell had supported Mitt Romney, it would have been a blow to Obama. The endorsement comes as Romney is blistering Obama on defense spending.

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- It's Wednesday night and despite the threat of Tropical Storm Sandy, about 200 people filled the Romney campaign storefront office in a mall here for a pep talk from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

"Mitt Romney cannot be president of the United States unless he wins the State of Florida," said McCain, urging the crowd to make "that extra phone call" to get out the Romney vote.

Florida in 2012 is reprising its role as a premier presidential toss-up state.

In 2008, President Barack Obama, won with 51 percent to McCain's 48.2 percent. In 2004, President George W. Bush with 52.1 percent of the vote bested Sen. John Kerry at 47.1 percent. And in 2000, the year of the hanging chad and recount, Bush beat Vice President Al Gore by a mere 537 votes.

Of all the battleground states, Florida is the top prize, with 29 electoral votes. Florida has had a tough go in the past few years; housing values crashed and unemployment was higher here than in other parts of the nation, 8.7 percent in September.

Romney and Obama and their SuperPAC allies are waging a fierce battle on the ground, the airwaves and in mailboxes. Romney is ahead of Obama by 1.8 points, according to the Florida poll average on Wednesday.

The presidential rivals -- and their spouses -- have been in Florida a lot and will be in and out through Election Day.

There is also a constant flow of well-known surrogates such as McCain and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for Romney and for Obama, one-time Republican, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). Mayor Rahm Emanuel left Florida Monday, working the base and Jewish vote over the weekend.

"It's the biggest swing state," Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, told me. "This is a microcosm of the country, 19 million people. We have people from every walk of life from all around the world."

There are many Hispanic voters but as Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) told me, they are diverse. "You have very large Colombian, Cuban, Nicaraguan, Dominican, Peruvian, Puerto Rican populations in different parts of the state," he said.

Retirees can be found across the Sunshine State and they are politically powerful because they turn out to vote. Bob Graham, a Democrat who is a former Florida governor and senator told me, "there are some peculiar issues to Florida, one of which is Medicare," he said.

Florida has distinct regions:

There is the famous gulf-to-coast "I-4 Corridor" of a growing number of new and swing voters named after the Interstate running east-west from Hillsborough County, which includes the Tampa Bay area through Orlando to Daytona.

Southeast Florida contains folks from or with roots in northern cities and is more Democratic, with most of the state's Jewish voters living in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.

Southwest Florida has more Midwest transplants and leans more Republican. There are conservative Democrats in the Panhandle and large military populations in northern part of the state -- more GOP friendly.

Obama, who on Tuesday headlined a large rally in Delray Beach in southern Florida, along the Atlantic coast, on Thursday touches town in Tampa, on that I-4 contested turf. Ann Romney stumped in Florida on Wednesday and Thursday. Romney works the I-4 with three stops on Saturday -- the day early voting begins in the state.

Most of Florida's African-American voters are registered Democrats, and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a briefing call to reporters on Tuesday, 'there are 250,000 more registered African-American and Latino voters than there were four years ago when the president won Florida."

Romney strategist Kevin Madden told me, "We are outpacing where McCain was in the I-4 corridor, which is critical. We've had improved numbers with Hispanic voters in the southern part of the state, and we are just seeing improved enthusiasm in places like the Panhandle," he said.

Over at the Romney "victory center" in east Boca, McCain is winding up; he invokes a famous saying of unclear origin to crank up the troops. Said McCain, "don't forget the immortal words of the late Mayor Daley of Chicago, 'Vote early and vote often'."

President Barack Obama on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno blasted Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock's rape comments.

LENO: The senate candidate Richard Mourdock. He made a statement today -- or I -- or at least I saw it today. I want quote what he said. He said -- he was asked about rape and -- "I struggled with it, myself, for a long time, but I came to realize life is a gift from God. And even if life begins in a horrible situation of rape, it is something God intended to happen " which -- I mean, this seems like we're back to Todd Akin time again.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well -- you know, I don't know how these guys come up with these ideas. Let me make a very simple proposition.

LENO: Mm-hm.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Rape is rape. It is a crime. And so, these various distinctions about rape and, you know -- don't make too much sense to me. Don't make any sense to me. The second thing this underscores, though, this is exactly why you don't want a bunch of politicians -- mostly male -- making decisions about women's health care decisions. I -- women are capable of making these decisions in consultation with their partners, with their doctors. And, you know, for politicians to want to intrude in this stuff, often times without any information, is a huge problem. And this is obviously a part of what's at stake in this election. You've got a Supreme Court that -- you know, typically a president is gonna have probably another couple of appointments during the course of his term. And, you know, Roe vs. Wade is probably hanging in the balance. You've got issues like Planned Parenthood where, you know, that organization provides millions of women cervical cancer screenings, mammograms -- all kinds of basic healthcare.

LENO: Right.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And so I think it's really important for us to -- to understand that women are capable of making these decisions and that these are not just women's issues. These are family issues.


President Barack Obama pokes at Donald Trump on the Jay Leno Show on Wednesday. Trump on Wednesday said he would give Obama $5 million if he released his college and passport records.

According to the pool report, Obama told Leno that the beef dates back to when he and Trump were growing up Kenya.

"We had constant run-ins on the soccer field," Obama said. "He wasn't very good and resented it. When we finally moved to America I thought it would be over."

Following up: Former President Bill Clinton was in Chicago on Tuesday for a $10,000-per-person fund-raiser to benefit the Obama re-election campaign. The lunch was at Gibson's Bar & Steakhouse.

I posted Clinton was hitting the city on Oct. 1.

Obama, Romney battleground blitz

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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- With debates out of the way, Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama are blitzing a handful of battleground states as their campaigns are putting enormous energy into turning out early votes.

On Tuesday, Romney, Obama and their running mates, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Vice President Joe Biden, stumped in the states that are toss-ups in their quest for 270 electoral votes needed to claim the White House.

National polls show Romney and Obama are in a dead heat. But it's not a national election anymore.

It's intense combat in mainly seven battleground states to win at least 50.1 percent in order to claim the states' electoral votes.

Both campaigns and their allies are flooding the battlegrounds with ads -- and putting enormous effort into what is known as GOTV, getting out the vote, with a mega-effort to lock in supporters early by getting them to take advantage of early voting.

"Now, two weeks from today, Americans in all 50 states will step into the voting booth, but here in Florida, you get to start voting on Saturday," Obama told a crowd of 11,000 at the Delray Beach Tennis Center on Tuesday morning before moving on to another battleground, Ohio.

Early voting started in Ohio on Oct. 2; in Dayton, where Obama was joined by Biden later on Tuesday, the president reminded the crowd, "here in Ohio, you can vote early. Here in Ohio, you can vote right after this event. If you want to know where to vote, you go to"

In Henderson, Nev., a suburb of Las Vegas, Ryan, introducing Romney, urged, "Hey, don't forget, early voting already started. You can get out there; you can cast your vote. We need your help."

Romney repeated the message. "I want you to make sure to begin voting. Early voting has already started. Vote. Get out there. We want you to start voting right now."

The ground game for both campaigns -- in the broadest strokes -- at essence has the same goal. As Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a Tuesday briefing call with reporters, "If you think about what we're doing on the ground the next 14 days, it's quite simple. We have two jobs: one, to persuade the undecideds, and two, to turn our voters out."

". . . Every single day now is Election Day, and voters in Iowa, in Nevada, in Wisconsin, in Ohio are voting every day and they're voting for Barack Obama."

Romney strategist Kevin Madden said they were in great shape with the early vote. "The level of enthusiasm we have right now is outpacing theirs," he told me. ". . . It's a crucial two-week stage with early voting going on, and people are really getting to the point where they are making up their minds."

Early voting is seen as so important that Obama, in a 48-hour, two-day battleground state blitz, will touch down in Chicago on Thursday to make history by being the first president to cast an early ballot.

Obama on Wednesday sprints through Iowa, Colorado and Nevada, darting over to solid Democratic California for two hours and 20 minutes to tape Jay Leno's "Tonight Show."

On Thursday, Obama returns to Florida, touches down in Virginia and rushes over to Chicago for a few hours in order to throw a spotlight on the importance of the early vote, and ends up back in Ohio.

Romney is circling through those states as well.

The best way to know what the campaigns know when it comes to battlegrounds as it gets closer to Election Day is to see where Romney, Obama, Ryan and Biden travel and where the campaigns send key surrogates.

Everyone I talked to agreed: Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, is emerging as the place where the fight will be most fierce, followed by Florida, with 29 votes and Virginia, 13. The others are New Hampshire with 4; Wisconsin, 10; Iowa, 6, and Nevada, 6.

The RealClearPolitics map analysis Tuesday gives Obama 201 electoral votes to 206 for Romney, with 131 votes up for grabs.

When I talked with Obama White House senior adviser David Plouffe on Monday in Boca Raton after the debate, I asked him if he had a top tier of battlegrounds.

Said Plouffe, "I can't do that. They are like children. They are all special and we think we can win them all."

(video by Lynn Sweet)
President Barack Obama makes his closing argument at a Delray Beach, Florida rally on Oct. 23.

"That's the kind of President I've been, Florida. That's the kind of President I intend to be. I'm asking for your vote. I'm asking for your help. I believe in you, and I'm asking you to believe in me. And if you stand with me, and work with me, and knock on some doors with me, and make some phone calls with me, if you do that, we will win Palm Beach County again. We'll win Florida again. We'll finish what we started. We will win this election. And we'll remind the world why the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth.

"God bless you, and God bless the United States of America."

obama delray1.JPG
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

obama delray2.JPG
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

obama delray3.JPG
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

HIGHLAND BEACH, Fl.--"You Don't Own Me" was an anthem of the 1960s and Lesley Gore is re-introducing her hit to spur women to vote. While the new video--featuring a variety of women lip-synching her song--is not a direct appeal for President Barack Obama, it does highlight Mitt Romney's opposition to reproductive rights.

Gore appears at the start saying "I'm Lesley Gore and I approve this message."

At the end she appears again noting she recorded the song in 1964 and "It's hard for me to believe but we're still fighting for the same things we were then. Yes, ladies, we've got to come together and get out there and vote and protect our bodies. They're ours. Please vote."

Suzi Parker, over at the Washington Post's "She the People" writes, "the video, labeled as "YouDon'tOwnMePSA," is the mastermind of Sarah Sophie Flicker, a law school graduate, filmmaker, trapeze artist, mother and leader of New York's The Citizens Band, a cabaret collective that makes political statements."

HIGHLAND BEACH, FL.--The Mitt Romney campaign is looking for a fund-raising spurt to fund ads in the crucial battleground states--with a fund-raiser Nov. 2 at the Chicago home of Ron and Christina Gidwitz expected to raise about $1 million--with tickets ranging from $1,000 to $75,800 per person. The headliners at the Near North Side reception are Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell--with Virginia one of the top tier battleground states.

The price points:



Other hosts, besides the Gidwitzs' are Muneer Satter, the Illinois Romney Victory Finance Chairman and National Finance co-chairman, the Illinois GOP congressional delegation and Illinois State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, the Illinois Romney campaign chairman.

HIGHLAND BEACH, Fl.--While Mitt Romney marks election night in Boston--and President Barack Obama is at McCormick Place in Chicago--the Illinois Romney campaign, led by state treasurer Dan Rutherford will hols rhwi Election Night watch at theWit Hotel in Chicago.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

DELRAY BEACH, Fl.--President Barack Obama--hit by Mitt Romney for not laying out what he will do in a second term--has packaged his plans in a new booklet titled "A Plan for Jobs," which he will talk about at a rally in this Palm Beach County city in a crucial battleground state.

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- President Barack Obama invoked his commander in chief credentials -- and some withering zingers -- at the Monday debate to wrestle Mitt Romney to the ground.

Romney was an able competitor, but it turns out that Romney and Obama agreed more than they disagreed when it comes to foreign policy -- which left Obama free to portray Romney as a man of the past, not the future.

As soon as Romney pledged not to cut military spending (incorrectly implying that was an Obama proposal -- something he has done before) Obama pounced, painting Romney as woefully uninformed about how a modern military measures its strike force.

"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works," Obama said. "You -- you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

"And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's -- it's what are our capabilities."

Obama caught an enormous break when Romney decided not to pressure him over the Libya controversy where four Americans died in a Sept. 11 attack -- which was seen as Obama's biggest problem going into the third and final debate at Lynn University.

Moderator Bob Schieffer brought it up as the first question, bluntly asking if the Obama administration had an intelligence failure or attempted to "mislead people about what really happened."

Romney made a strategic decision to take a different course -- to downplay Libya and try instead to preempt the frequent Obama brag about hunting down and killing Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.

"We can't kill our way out of this mess," said Romney, who said he would put in place a "robust strategy" to deal with Islamic extremists. That gave Obama an opening to give Romney a lecture on what "I've learned as commander in chief."

Romney tried to inoculate himself when he told Obama "attacking me is not talking about how we're going to deal with the challenges that exist in the Middle East." Guessing correctly that Obama would hit home over a clumsy assessment he made about Russia, he said he did not "wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia."

But Obama seemed to come in with a game plan that Romney could not outgame.

Let me go back to Obama's put downs of Romney as a throwback. Obama delivered a line that sounded canned. But no matter. He made his point when talking about the threat of al-Qaida, linking it to that comment Romney once made about Russia being a major threat.

"And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War's been over for 20 years. But, governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s," Obama said.

This debate, in contrast to last week's at Hofstra University, was far more civil. Having the rivals seated at a table helped. Not having to worry about stagecraft made the debate less raucous.

But Romney did not see around corners for the traps Obama had set. When he attacked Obama on Israel -- for not visiting the nation while president, a complaint that has been oft made by a segment of Jewish voters -- Obama was ready.

"When I went to Israel, I did not take donors," Obama said, shrinking Romney's summer trip to Israel. "I didn't attend fund-raisers. I went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum there, to remind myself on the nature of evil and why our bond with Israel will be unbreakable."

I was on that trip with Obama, and unlike Romney's summer trip, Obama did seek to see for himself the threats Israel faced everyday, traveling to Sderot near the border. Obama said at the debate, "I saw families there who showed me there where missiles had come down near their children's bedroom."

I remember vividly seeing the spent missiles on display.

Said Obama, wrapping it up, "so that's how I've used my travels."

BOCA RATON, Fl.-- President Barack Obama's "horses and bayonets" put down of Mitt Romney led in Google Monday debate night searches.


1. Top 5 Rising Searches of the Night (9 EDT to 10:45 EDT)
horses and bayonets

2. Rising Terms with Each Candidate (9 EDT to 10:45 EDT)

For Obama:

1. apology tour
2. bin laden
3. 2008
4. horses and bayonets

For Romney:

1. auto bailout
2. what is on romney's flag pin
3. budget plan
4. what kind of car does mitt romney drive

(video by Lynn Sweet)

BOCA RATON, Fl.--Comic Pauly Shore showed up to tout his Showtime special "Pauly-tics" before the debate, working the precincts at the media file/spin room.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

(video by Lynn Sweet)

BOCA RATON, Fl.--Sen. John McCan (R-Az.) predicted that President Barack Obama's toughest challenge in his debate Monday night will be over Libya--where Mitt Romney has challenged Obama on the administrations' shifting story about the Sept. 11 attacks that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

McCain, in the media file/spin room before the debate told me when it comes to Obama and Libya, "he is either not telling the American people the truth or he is grossly incompetent. I think it is going to be hard to defend."

BOCA RATON, Fla --After watching Mitt Romney in two debates, I asked Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) on Monday--who is President Barack Obama's sparring partner in debate prep--how he has changed or adjusted his approach.

Kerry--speaking to reporters in the media file center/spin room before the Boca Raton debate--suggested he made adjustments--but did not want to get into details. He did offer up this"

"I was chosen from binders of senators and I learned my job well enough that when I went home my dog was growling at me so obviously I changed something. We'll see how it works tonight. We'll see how it happens, but I'm not going to go into the whole process. It was a privilege to be part of it, and that's a serious comment."

Kerry's "binders" wise crack was aimed at Romney, who said at the Hofstra debate last week that he looked through "whole binders full of women" when he was recruiting staff while Massachusetts governor.

Kerry, who delivered a powerful case for Obama in his Democratic Convention speech added Obama in the Florida third and final debate "could not be more anxious to defend the decisions that he has made and lay out his vision to where the country needs to go."

(video by Lynn Sweet)

(video by Lynn Sweet)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel delivers a pep talk at an Obama campaign office in a Tampa suburb on Saturday, the first day of a Florida battleground state swing for the president.

Reps Bobby Rush and Danny Davis visited their fellow Chicago Democrat, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. at his Washington home--and will report back later on Monday. Jackson, out of commission since June--dealing with bi-polar illness and depression--is returning to Mayo Clinic for further treatment. Rush and Davis will hold a press conference at O'Hare Airport at 6 p.m. Chicago time to "speak with reporters about the visit and issues of national concern around mental health." I would expect the two to also make a pitch for Jackson's re-election. Jackson on Friday launched a robo-call to his constitutients asking them for patience as he recovers. He is not expected to surface before election day. Early voting in Illinois started on Monday.

DELRAY BEACH, FL.--Mayor Rahm Emanuel wrapped up Monday a three-day swing through battleground Florida telling voters hours before the presidential debate President Obama's record matters more than a 90-minute debate performance.

Emanuel's events in Tampa/St. Petersburg and South Florida were aimed at energizing Obama volunteers and shoring up Jewish support, with the mayor, Obama's former chief of staff, providing personal testimony to Obama's unwavering support for Israel.

On Monday morning, Emanuel drew about 300--mostly seniors-- in the clubhouse of a condo complex here, where he was asked by one man how he accounted for Obama's "lousy" performance in his first debate with Mitt Romney in Denver.

Romney and Obama meet at Lynn University in Boca Raton at 8 p.m. Chicago time for a debate to be focused on foreign policy.

"I can't tell you what happened in that first debate, OK? I can't because there is no answer I can give that makes sense, OK?" Emanuel said.

"...I'm not that interested in the 90 minutes, I'm interested in the next four years," he said to applause. "Anybody here ever have an off day? Ok? Nobody has been harsher about it..than himself," he said of the president.

That said, even if both Romney and Obama have decent debates Monday, "I know the record for the past three-and-a-half years and I am not going to shortchange that just for a debate performance," Emanuel said.

Later on Monday, Emanuel rallied Obama supporters at a West Palm Beach campaign office before flying back to Chicago.

HIGHLAND BEACH, Fla. -- Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama go into their final debate Monday burdened with the knowledge that 90 minutes in Boca Raton can make or break their candidacy.

The 2012 debates have turned out to be meaningful: Obama threw away his lead in a single night by dozing through Denver, giving Romney a chance to get a second look from voters who had not been leaning toward him.

Neither was able to maximize the second debate at Hofstra last week.

The third debate, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, is devoted to foreign policy -- and comes on the 50th anniversary of the day when President John Kennedy announced the Cuban missile crisis, with Soviet weapons 90 miles from the Florida coast.

Here's what to watch for:

♦ Who can create a moment that is memorable, so much so that it is game-changing?

These debates provide a torrent of information, and Romney and Obama have yet to master consistently making the complex simple enough to land punches with impact.

I'm talking about something powerful: It can come through body language, a gaffe, a putdown or by a brilliant, simple statement of a policy or a vision that will be seen as instantly compelling by the undecided or persuadables.

With many battleground states early voting -- it starts Oct. 27 in battleground Florida -- wavering voters may figure they've heard enough by Tuesday to go vote and tune out the rest of the campaign.

♦ Who will be first to flip foreign policy questions into a discussion of what this means to domestic economic policy? The winner of the debate may well be who is forceful about making the connection that a strong U.S. globally helps the pocketbook locally.

Polls show voters rank, on the whole, concern over international affairs below domestic economic issues. The campaign started with the economy the top issue and that's how it is ending. By the way, another jobs report is out at the end of next week -- Nov. 2.

♦ Can Obama close? He was too polite in the Hofstra debate over the Libya exchange, appealing to moderator Candy Crowley to call a strike on Romney over his assertion that Obama took his time to label as terrorist acts the Sept. 11 murders of four U.S. citizens in Libya, including the ambassador, Chris Stevens.

Obama can't depend on anyone but himself to make the case for a second term -- or to prevent voters from giving Romney yet again a second look. And though Obama is loath to engage in "serial fact-checking," it's his job to correct the record.

♦ Can Romney close? He threw away an opportunity to nail Obama at the last debate over the administrations' shifting story about what happened in Libya on Sept. 11.

♦ How will Obama answer -- or in a pre-emptive move bring up -- the matter of who and why more security was rejected for the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

♦ Will Romney revisit "binders? With the women's vote crucial -- and Romney making gains in a demographic Obama had a lock on in 2008, Romney created a problem for himself at Hofstra with his "whole binders full of women" remark, referring to his female recruitment while Massachusetts governor.

♦ Will the debate stray south of the border? Debate moderator Bob Schieffer has said he will devote two portions of the debate to the Middle East and terrorism. Presumably that will cover the attack at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, relations with Israel and how to shut down Iraq's nuclear capacity.

So the question is, will Romney or Obama bring up or engage in exchanges over Cuba, Latin America, South America and the Caribbean? Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, is up for grabs, and large pockets of voters here have roots in or economic interests with these regions.

♦ Will Romney use his "Obama has no plan for the next four years" newest line of attack now that Obama and his team have had days to figure out a pithy way to respond? Is it a risk worth taking, or better left to the paid ads?

Meanwhile, on the Sunday shows, pre-debate skirmishing set the stage for Monday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in Florida working Sunday mainly to shore up the Jewish vote for Obama, was a headliner on ABC's "This Week." Host George Stephanopoulos asked Emanuel about Obama not answering at Hofstra the question about security at the Benghazi consulate.

Emanuel, in answering, slammed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for posting online sensitive State Department documents about Libya.

Issa, said Emanuel, "put people at risk in Libya, and people around the world will now know that you are at risk if you cooperate with the United States. That office -- that chairmanship of that committee comes with responsibility, and you cannot act reckless with it."

On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) provided what may be a preview of how Obama handles Iran.

Said Durbin, "I think it's a clear indication that the sanctions regime that President Obama has put together with Israel and many nations around the world is putting pressure on Iran to sit down and finally acknowledge that they cannot have a nuclear weapon."

The debate starts at 8 p.m. Chicago time.

Early voting starts in Illinois on Monday--President Barack Obama touches down Thursday to cast his early ballot in person in Chicago--which may give some bounce to Chicago area House candidates Tammy Duckworth, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee--the Democratic House national political operation--is running an aggressive Illinois ground game--and will be previewing its "Illinois Votes" plans later today with a briefing by DCCC director Robby Monk. The Illinois Republican Party also has a strong ground network. In play in the Chicago area: bruising contests in the 8th, 10th and 11th congressional districts.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

TEMPLE TERRACE, FL--Mayor Rahm Emanuel autographs signs for Obama volunteers and staffers following a pep talk at a suburban Tampa Obama for President office on Saturday.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.--not heard from since June--and being treated for bipolar disorder and depression--on Saturday sent out an automated phone call to voters in his 2nd congressional district pleading for patience 17 days before the election, speaking out about his condition for the first time.

Jesse Jackson Jr. robocall

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In the robo call Jackson says, "Like many human beings a series of events came together in my life at the same time and they have been difficult to sort through. I am human. I am doing my best. I am trying to sort through them all."

He said he is "anxious to return to work on your behalf" but it is against "medical advice" for him to do so. While he is "starting to heal," Jackson said his doctors told him "the road to recovery is a long one."

Jackson is on his way back to the Mayo Clinic for treatment--he's not there yet, I am told. It now seems unlikely that Jackson will surface in the public before election day. After he left Mayo, he returned to his home in Washington D.C. but found himself the subject of stories about his whereabouts when he was seen in a D.C. bar on on the steps of his DuPont Circle home.

In the robo call Jackson says, "Like many human beings a series of events came together in my life at the same time and they have been difficult to sort through. I am human. I am doing my best. I am trying to sort through them all."

Below, the entire text of the Jackson call...

Hello this is Congressman Jackson. For the past few months I have undergone medical treatment to address several serious health issues.

Like many human beings a series of events came together in my life at the same time and they have been difficult to sort through. I am human. I am doing my best. I am trying to sort through them all.

I want to thank you for the many thoughts and prayers during this difficult time for me and my family, especially my colleagues and the people who mean most to me, my constituents.

I am starting to heal. The good news is my health is improving, but my doctors tell me the road to recovery is a long one.

For nearly 18 years I have served the people of the second district, I am anxious to return to work on your behalf, but at this time it is against medical advice, and while I will always give my all to my constituents, I ask for your continued patience as I work to get my health back.

After my family, my constituents are the most important people in the world to me. I will always act in your best interests. Your patience, your prayers and your support during this difficult time means more to me than you will ever know. With your help, your patience, and God's grace, we will continue to work together to strengthen our communities, provide a better future for our children and leave the world a better than we found it.

Thank you and God bless you.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face off at their final debate Monday -- and it is Obama's last best chance to shut down Romney's momentum in one pounce.

Obama starts at an advantage over Romney because the third debate will be devoted to foreign policy -- and as a sitting president, he just knows more. But that means the expectations are higher.

The president "has access on a daily basis to all of the intelligence, he's been in the driver's seat when it came time to make decisions," William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me. "People already expect something from him and I doubt very much they would expect quite as much from Mitt Romney."

The debate is in battleground Florida, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, as polls show Romney gaining nationally among likely voters -- ahead by six points in a Gallup poll released Friday -- with Obama doing better in key electoral vote-rich battleground states.

Obama is prepping this weekend at his Camp David presidential retreat; Romney is already in Florida and does his final rehearsals at a hotel near Boca Raton. One of Romney's top foreign policy advisers is Chicago attorney Richard Williamson -- who has been mentioned as a possible national security adviser if Romney wins.

Romney and Obama meet in Florida with a fluid situation-- and with Obama knowing he threw away his lead overnight by his coma-like performance in Denver.

Obama did well at Hofstra last Tuesday. Romney flubbed an attack on Obama over Libya and wounded himself potentially with female voters with his instantly famous statement about how, when he was Massachusetts governor -- he sifted through "whole binders full of women" to fill his cabinet.

Unlike that Hofstra debate, where the town hall format found Obama and Romney circling each other on a stage in what turned out to be an intense brawl -- the Boca Raton showdown will find the rivals tethered to a chair.

Obama and Romney will be seated behind a table and, according to a contract-like memo signed between the two campaigns on Oct. 3, "at no time" shall either candidate "move" from their seat.

The moderator is CBS "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer, who has selected the topics for the 90-minute encounter:

† America's role in the world.

† The Afghanistan and Pakistan wars.

† "Red lines" and Israel and Iran.

† The "changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism."

† The rise of China.

Both Romney and Obama have talked about foreign policy, but domestic issues -- the economy -- have dominated the campaigns.

Libya on Monday will be the hottest item because of the Sept. 11 murders of four U.S. diplomats in Benghazi -- and a lot of unfinished business from the Hofstra debate.

Romney and Ryan have been raising questions about what the U.S. government knew, when they knew it, whether there was proper security and if the Obama administration misled the public.

At Hofstra, Romney was not able to forcefully make his points -- including that the Obama White House downplayed at first that the deaths were not at the hands of a mob, but an Al-Qaeda affiliate. Obama was able to accuse Romney of "trying to make political points."

When it comes to Israel and Iran, Steve Coll put it well in his New Yorker piece: "After they are done arguing about who is a better friend of Israel or a more devoted enemy of the Taliban and Iran, what will they possibly talk about?"

Hofstra provided a preview of what may be a round two at Boca when it comes to China. The China portion could devolve into a heated exchange about Romney's record at Bain -- and whether companies Bain backed outsourced to China.

"I'll crack down on China," Romney said at Hofstra.

Retorted Obama, "Governor, you're the last person who is going to get tough on China."

Viewership for the debates peaked so far at the first, according to Nielsen. Denver drew 67.2 million viewers; the vice presidential, 51.4 viewers, and Hofstra, 65.6 million viewers. On Monday, Romney and Obama compete with "Monday Night Football."

The debates are run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and the announcement of dates and sites was back on Oct. 31, 2011 -- before the GOP nominee was known or what would be competing for the attention of the nation on a particular night.

Galston told me he does not expect the Florida debate to be as confrontational as the last one. Said Galston, "they may have gotten it out of their system."

rahm tampa2.jpeg

Obama campaign office, Temple Terrace, Fl.
(photos by Lynn Sweet)

TEMPLE TERRACE, FL.--Mayor Rahm Emanuel stops by a Obama for America office on Saturday afternoon, part of a swing through battleground Florida. This office is near the University of Southern Florida.

Emanuel will meet with canvassers here and then head over to St. Petersburg for an Obama field office visit. The emphasis in Florida--as in other battleground states--is early voting. Early voting starts in Florida on Oct. 27 at local polling places. Voters can also vote at local Supervisor of Elections offices.

Obama got a boost here Saturday: The Tampa Bay Times endorsed him, stating, "this is not the time to reverse course and return to the failed policies of the past."

Last time I was in Tampa: In August, for the Republican National Convention.

DULLES AIRPORT, VA.--Mayor Rahm Emanuel cranks up Obama supporters on Saturday during stops in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Near Tampa, Emanuel hits an Obama for America office to, according to the campaign, "hold a Canvass Kickoff at the Obama for America -Temple Terrace Office to encourage supporters and volunteers to Vote Now!, the first statewide push to educate Floridians about in person absentee voting. Mayor Emanuel will discuss President Obama's concrete plans to create jobs and strengthen the middle class. With Vote Now!, Floridians can vote at their county Supervisor of Elections office before Early Voting begins.

From there, Emanuel hops over to St. Petersburg to meet with more campaign workers. On Sunday is in South Florida, near Boca Raton, where he speaks at two condos with heavy Jewish populations.

WASHINGTON--Battleground Florida and its 29 electoral votes are up for grabs, according to a new CNN poll released Friday with likely Florida voters for Mitt Romney at 49 percent to President Barack Obama's 48 percent. The poll was taken after the second debate.

When just looking at Florida registered voters, Obama is at 50 percent to Romney's 43 percent.

For more:

WASHINGTON--Stumping in Fairfax, Va, on Friday, President Barack Obama added a new line of attack against Mitt Romney--saying his rival is going through "Romnesia."

Below, Obama on "Romnesia"...

The choice between going backward and moving forward has never been so clear.

But now that we're 18 days out from the election, "Mr. Severely Conservative" wants you to think he was severely kidding about everything he said over the last year. He told folks he -- he was the ideal candidate for the tea party. Now, suddenly, he's saying, what, who, me? He's forgetting what his own positions are, and he's betting that you will too. I mean, he's changing up so much and backtracking and sidestepping.

We've got to -- we've got to -- we've got to name this condition that he's going through. I think -- I think it's called "Romnesia."

That's what it's called. I think that's what he's going through.

I -- I'm not -- I'm not a medical doctor, but I -- but I do want to go over some of the symptoms with you -- -- because I want to make sure nobody else catches it. (Laughter, cheers.)

It's -- you know, if you say -- if you say you're for equal pay for equal work, but you keep refusing to say whether or not you'd sign a bill that protects equal pay for equal work, you might have "Romnesia." If you say women should have access to contraceptive care, but you support legislation that would let your employer deny you contraceptive care, you might have a case of "Romnesia." If you say you'll protect a woman's right to choose, but you stand up in a primary debate and said that you'd be delighted to sign a law outlying -- outlawing that right to choose in all cases, man, you definitely got "Romnesia."

And -- and -- now, this extends to other issues. If you -- if you say earlier in the year, I'm going to give a tax cut to the top 1 percent, and then in a debate you say, I -- I don't know anything about giving tax cuts to rich folks -- (laughter) -- that -- you -- you need to -- yeah, you -- you need to get a -- a -- a thermometer take your temperature because you -- you probably got "Romnesia."

If -- if you say that you're -- you're -- you're a champion of the coal industry, when while you were governor you stood in front of a coal plant and said, this plant will kill you -- - that's "Romnesia."

So -- so the -- I -- I think you're being able -- you're beginning to be able to -- to identify these symptoms. And -- and if you come down with a case of "Romnesia" -- -- and you can't seem to remember the policies that are still on your website --- or the promises that you've made over the six years you've been running for president, here's the good news: "Obamacare" covers pre-existing conditions.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel hits battleground Florida over the weekend, stumping in Tampa and St. Petersburg on Saturday and near Boca Raton on Sunday. Emanuel is a headliner on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, hosted by his pal, George Stephanopoulos, where he will duel Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio.

FROM NBC: new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls show President Barack Obama maintaining his lead over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in the battleground states of Iowa and Wisconsin.

The full polls are available online here:


From Mark Murray, Senior Political Editor, NBC News

According to the polls - which were conducted from Monday through Wednesday, encompassing Tuesday's presidential debate in New York and after - Obama receives the support of 51 percent of likely voters in Iowa to Romney's 43 percent.

That eight-point margin is unchanged from the NBC/WSJ/Marist poll released last month (before the debate season began), when the president led his Republican opponent 50 percent to 42 percent.

And in Wisconsin, Obama is ahead by six points among likely voters, 51 percent to 45 percent, which also is virtually unchanged from last month.

After two presidential debates, Marist pollster Lee Miringoff observes, the races in Iowa and Wisconsin are back to where they were in September. "There were two debates, but you can't tell it from the numbers."

These two battleground states combined account for just 16 electoral votes in this presidential contest. But they play a large role in each campaign's path to securing the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the White House.

If Obama wins both Iowa and Wisconsin, according to NBC's latest battleground map, he could reach or surpass 270 electoral votes by either winning: 1) just Ohio; 2) a combination of Colorado, Nevada and New Hampshire; or 3) a combination New Hampshire and Virginia.

binders photo.JPG
The binder. Photo from MassGap.Org, the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus

WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney's "whole binders full of women" statement at the Hofstra debate--now at the center of a fight with President Barack Obama for female voters: what exactly was he talking about? Here's the background.

Asked about pay equity for women, Romney turned to discussing his hiring of women after he was elected governor of Massachusetts.

"I had the -- the chance to pull together a Cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I -- and I went to my staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are -- are all men?

"They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well, gosh, can't we -- can't we find some -- some women that are also qualified?

"And -- and so we -- we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of -- of women."


Before the 2002 election for governor in Massachusetts, a drive to increase the number of women appointees in state government was already underway, run by the Massachusetts Government Appointment Project, known as MassGap. The non-partisan group was pro-active; assembling female resumes before the election, in order to have viable names to present to the winner.


According to MassGap, "Prior to the 2002 election, women comprised approximately 30 percent of appointed senior-level positions in Massachusetts government. By 2004, 42 percent of the new appointments made by the Romney administration were women. Subsequently, however, from 2004-2006 the percentage of newly-appointed women in these senior appointed positions dropped to 25 percent."

Below, MassGap statement....

MassGAP Statement on Presidential Debate
BOSTON - At the presidential debate last night, questions arose regarding how women candidates were identified for potential appointment to leadership roles by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. What follows details the process that was created by the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus in 2002 to maximize opportunities for women to be considered for key roles in Massachusetts government.

The Massachusetts Government Appointments Project (MassGAP) was founded under the leadership of the MA Women's Political Caucus in 2002 to address the issue of the under-representation of women in appointed positions in Massachusetts government. MassGAP brought together a nonpartisan coalition of over 25 women's organizations to recruit women to apply for government positions within the administration, and recommend qualified women for those positions.

Prior to the 2002 gubernatorial election, MassGAP approached the campaigns of candidates Shannon O'Brien and Mitt Romney and asked them both to commit to: (1)."Make best efforts" to ensure that the number of women in appointed state positions is proportionate to the population of women in Massachusetts; (2). Select a transition team whose composition is proportionate to the women in the Commonwealth; and (3). Meet with MassGAP representatives regularly during the appointments process.

WASHINGTON--Presidenti Barack Obama and Mitt Romney second debate Tuesday at Hofstra University on Long Island, drew 65.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings. That's less than the 67.2 million who watched the first showdown in Denver.

The least viewed was the vice-presidential debate last week at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

According to Nielsen

Debate One
67.2 million viewers

Vice President Debate
51.4 million viewers

Debate Two
65.6 million viewers

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are courting women voters so hard, I expect them to show up for their third and final debate Monday in Boca Raton in pink shirts and ties.

Two sleeper issues in the presidential campaign -- pay equity and glass ceilings women face in employment -- roared to life Tuesday night at the Hofstra town hall debate in an exchange instantly branded with one word: "binders."

Romney, wanting to avoid answering a direct question about pay equity for women -- instead decided to salute his record as Massachusetts governor for hiring women to be part of his cabinet.

In taking the evasive action, Romney only drew massive attention to how he and his campaign have been sidestepping for months questions over whether Romney supports the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill that Obama signed into law.

Now I can understand that Romney did not want to applaud one of Obama's signature achievements. Obama's been bragging on Ledbetter for years. But how hard would it have been for Romney to throw something out there about being for women getting paid the same as men for doing the same work.

This comes as two recent polls -- by Pew Research and Gallup -- found Romney making gains in female support with his messages about Obama's disappointing economic performance and the growing debt and deficit.

Obama's campaign has been counting on outsized backing from women, energized by his health-care law providing contraceptives at no cost, other preventive health benefits, support of abortion rights and appointment of two females to the Supreme Court.

The female vote is vital to deciding who wins the White House.

At the Tuesday debate, an undecided voter by the name of Katherine Fenton asked Romney what "new ways" could he suggest to "rectify the inequalities of the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?"

Romney's answer instantly injected a new phrase to our political lexicon.

Instead of commenting on pay equity for women, Romney said he recruited female executives when he became Massaschusetts governor from "whole binders full of women" put together by a women's group.

Google reported the phrase quickly shot to its third highest search term during the debate, social
media went crazy and parody writers found fresh material.

Romney spoke in a clumsy way about a diversity search for his cabinet that was otherwise laudable.

There was a dustup Wednesday because he made it seem at the debate as that he asked for the female resumes to be assembled -- when a Massachusetts women's group was already getting together a list of potential female recruits no matter who won that gubernatorial race. That's a side distraction.

Romney had a good record for hiring females for his cabinet. When he ran for president in 2008 his campaign was managed by a woman who remains a key figure in his 2012 inner circle -- Beth Meyers.

But the more meaningful matter is that Romney ignored at the debate his hiring record while helming Bain Capitol--which had no female partners when he ran it. And he was also silent on promoting the hiring of women while running the Salt Lake City Olympics.

Obama and his team seized on "binders" while stumping in battlegrounds Iowa and Ohio. At Mount Vernon, Iowa, Obama, talking about teachers said, "I've got to tell you, we don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented -- driven young women.

. . . And when young women graduate, they should get equal pay for equal work."

Biden, stumping in battleground Colorado, mocked Romney.

"When Governor Romney was asked a direct -- a direct question about equal pay, he started talking about binders. Folks, the idea he needed to go and ask where a qualified woman was -- he just should have come to my house."

". . . But I mean . . . equal pay -- he didn't even answer the question."

Campaigning in battleground Virginia, Romney said, "And as I go across the country and ask women, what can I do to help, what they speak about, day in and day out, is help me find a good job or a good job for my spouse, and help my kid -- make sure my children have a bright future, better schools and better job opportunities."

And we don't know what he really thinks about pay equity for women.

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama headlined a star-filled fund-raiser in Manhattan on Wednesday night.

Stars expected, according to the pool report: Geena Davis, Cherry Jones, James Earl Jones, Cynthia Nixon, Sam Waterston, Blair Underwood, and Sigourney Weaver, to be directed in some entertainment by Mike Nichols.

Chris Rock also attended.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's election night event in Chicago will be at McCormick Place, I've been told. The rally will be indoors and will not be designed to try to recreate the massive Grant Park gathering that marked Obama's 2008 election. I reported Oct. 3 Obama will be in Chicago election night. On Wednesday, the location was confirmed.

In 2008, Obama and wife Michelle voted at their South Side polling place--the Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School. Obama then flew to Indianapolis to work a phone bank, played basketball with pals, stopped home and then headed to the Hyatt on Wacker to watch the returns before hitting Grant Park.

In 2012, Obama will have voted already on election day--he is returning to Chicago on Oct. 25 to cast an early ballot. It's a good bet he then will do election day get-out-the vote work in a battleground state.

The massive lakefront McCormick Place complex hosted the Chicago NATO summit in May. It is a central location, near public transportation with plenty of parking and close to downtown hotels.


HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.--With the womens' vote crucial for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Romney faces some fallout on Wednesday over his citing during the Tuesday debate how he used a "binder" full of female resumes to help staff his top jobs while Massachusetts governor. "Binders full of women" became a top Google search term.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.--Likely youthful voters--18-to-29-year-olds--prefer President Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 19 points--with 48 percent of young adults saying they will "definitely" cast a ballot, according to a poll released Wednesday by Harvard's Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government.

"As enthusiasm for voting continues to slip among America's 18- to 29- year olds, the IOP's latest poll shows a clear sentiment by young adults that Washington is broken," said Harvard Institute of Politics Director Trey Grayson.

"Despite telling us that they are far less likely to vote this year, Millennials still yearn to make this country great - and it is our hope that as we approach Election Day both presidential campaigns work to connect with young adults in more meaningful ways and better engage on the issues that will shape their future and ours," said Harvard Institute of Politics Polling Director John Della Volpe.

Click below for details, methodology...

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Two alpha dogs tangled Tuesday, snarling and snapping, as a revived President Barack Obama staged a comeback, helped by an overly aggressive Mitt Romney.

The second presidential debate at Hofstra University was a town hall, with Obama and Romney free to roam the stage. And prowl around they did. They were boxers sizing up when to throw a punch, aware that their body language was going to be read by some undecided voters as a cue to their world view and their worthiness to be president.

Romney methodically underscored his central messages: that Obama has not delivered on the promises he made when he ran four years ago and that as a former governor and businessman, Romney could do better.

An energized Obama emphasized from the start the future; he was a little obvious about that because in the beginning he used the word over and over. But telling people that he had a second act to offer was a central challenge of this debate and Obama knew it going in.

Obama also did what his team said he would. Unlike the first debate, when he did not call Romney out when he thought he was wrong, this time he did: on the Detroit auto bailout and jobs. Romney "says he's got a five point plan? Gov. Romney doesn't have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan," Obama siad.

The biggest misstep Romney made was a total self-inflicted wound when he raised -- of all matters -- whether Obama kept tabs of his pension. As if that's all that Obama had to do?

"Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?" Romney demanded.

"Candy," Obama implored at the moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley.

"Have you looked at your pension?" Romney said again.

And then a third time: "Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?

"You know, I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours."

Romney went off on that tangent to try to deflect attention away from his own overseas investments -- as a private citizen and when he ran Bain Capital.

At another point, when Romney was trying to make a point, he tried to shut down Obama -- too forcefully. "You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking," Romney said.

Those two exchanges made Romney look unpresidential and eroded the enormous gain he earned from his first debate Oct. 3 in Denver.

Obama made up the ground he lost in the Denver debate that has fueled new momenteum into Romney's campaign and handed him a lead in many polls.

The debate focused almost entirely on domestic affairs and Obama remembered what he forgot to do in Denver -- tell people what he has accomplished in the past almost four years.

There was a long exchange about energy -- gas and coal, with a lot of it aimed at Ohio voters. In that crucial battleground state, gas and coal production are major issues.

Said Obama, "so here's what I've done since I've been president. We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it's been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment."

Retorted Romney, "But what we don't need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas. This has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal."

Obama looked a lot grayer since he was last at this stage at Hofstra -- on Oct. 15, 2008, when he debated Sen. John McCain.

But McCain did not chase him around his stage.

The next and last debate is Monday in Florida.

Top rising searches during the debate (8:45pm - 10:45pm EDT)

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At the Hofstra debate from Chicago

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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.--Four Chicagoans who back President Barack Obama were in the debate audience on Tuesday night at Hofstra University: Laura Ricketts; Kevin Conlon; Les Cooney and Steve Cohen.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is at the Obama/Ryan debate, on duty here as a surrogate in the Spin Room. Durbin pulled a similar assignment last week at the vice presidential debate in Danville, Ky. In between, Durbin stumped for President Barack Obama near Cleveland over the weekend.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.--Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)--who played Mitt Romney for President Barack Obama's debate prep-- scorched Romney as fake when it comes to bi-partisanship while talking to reporters before the second presidential race on Tuesday.

"Country be warned," Kerry said at the media file center and spin room at Hofstra University in this Long Island suburb.

Kerry said he anticipated that Romney may bring up his work with Massachusetts state lawmakers while he was governor--especially on his signature health care bill as bi-partisan credentials.

"Now he's running away from it nationally and says he's going to repeal it, his own plan!" Kerry said. "This is artistry. This is the most flim-flam-est political artistry I've ever seen."

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.--Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hits Florida next week to stump for President Barack Obama, targeting the large Jewish and senior populations in the battleground state. Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff--and a fundraiser for the main SuperPac helping his re-election drive-- will be in Florida Saturday through Monday--when the last presidential debate takes place in Boca Raton.

From Emanuel spokesman Sarah Hamilton: "While in Tampa Bay, Emanuel will participate in the campaigns outreach efforts encouraging Floridians to Vote Now! and thank volunteers and grassroots leaders for their hard work to reelect President Obama.

"In South Florida, the Mayor will highlight what is at stake in this election for Florida seniors, highlighting President Obama's work to strengthen Medicare and expand benefits versus the Romney-Ryan promise of turning Medicare into a voucher program. Emanuel, an observant Jew who is actively involved in his own community, will also participate in the campaign's outreach efforts to the Jewish community speaking about President's staunch support for Israel and other domestic issues important to him personally and to the Jewish community."

(video by Lynn Sweet)

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.--Obama campaign manager Jim Messina hit the spin room at Hofstra University before the debate to rebut comments Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) made at his stop in the media center. Portman said that Mitt Romney was ahead in battleground Ohio, according to their internal tracking polls.

That brought a strong response from Messina, who picked up on the point that the so-called Portman lead was within the margin of error.

"When you talk about internal tracking polls in the margin of error, you are loosing," Messina said. "And that is exactly what they are doing in Ohio. We are leading in battleground states. We continue to lead in important places like Ohio and Iowa and Wisconsin because there is a clear difference in this election. Gov. Romney is going to struggle to defend his position."

(video by Lynn Sweet)

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.--Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio)--who plays President Barack Obama in Mitt Romney's debate prep--hit the media center in advance of the second presidential debate at Hofstra U on Tuesday--and when I caught up with him he was talking about Romney's gains in Ohio, a crucial battleground state.

Portman attributed Romney's besting of Obama in their first debate in Denver to his growing support to the point that Ohio is now is a "dead heat." The Romney in Denver was "the real Mitt Romney" who people got to see "unfiltered."

As I note in my Tuesday column about Ohio, no Republican has won the White House with the Buckeye State.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.--Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama face off in a few hours for their second presidential debate at Hofstra University on Long Island--as surrogates for both sides are working the press in the combined media center and "spin room." Take a look for yourself...

Viewership for first two debates

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BLUE ASH, OHIO--Presidenti Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face off Tuesday night for their second debate at Hofstra University on Long Island, near New York. Their first showdown in Denver drew more viewers than the vice-presidential debate last week at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

According to Nielsen

Debate One
67.2 million viewers

Vice President Debate
51.4 million viewers

obama cincinnati office.jpeg
Obama field office, Cincinnati, Ohio (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Romney office Lebanon, Ohio.jpeg
Romney joint campaign office, Lebanon, Ohio (photo by Lynn Sweet)

CINCINNATI -- Michelle Obama, Paul Ryan and Ann Romney all stumped in the Buckeye State on Monday -- with the Obama and Romney teams throwing massive assets at this crucial battleground.

With early voting starting in Ohio on Oct. 2, it has been election month in Ohio more than Election Day.

Mitt Romney was here on Saturday, President Barack Obama returns on Wednesday and Bill Clinton and Bruce Springsteen hit Thursday to bolster the Obama drive.

Michelle Obama tried to spur early voting in general and Ohio in particular by mailing her absentee ballot with a public flourish. Ryan also looked for early votes. Ann Romney worked to turnout women voters.

At Ohio Wesleyan University in the city of Delaware, the first lady said: "Today I voted for my husband! Yes! It felt so good. Right now, my absentee ballot, it's on its way to Illinois, my home state -- which means that we are one vote closer to re-electing my husband and moving this country forward for four more years.

"So forgive me if I'm a little excited today -- for me, it was Election Day," she said. She also stopped in Cleveland, where she closed her speech by urging people to take a campaign bus to the early voting site "to cast your ballot for Barack Obama."

Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, touched down at Luken Field here for a brief rally where a top agenda item was early voting.

"Friends, don't forget, early voting's already started here in Ohio.
. . . What that means is you can vote early so that on Election Day, you can help get people to the polls. You can help make the phone calls. You can help give people rides. This election's so important, we even need you to talk to your relatives to get them out," Ryan said.

Ohio has 18 electoral votes and an outsized place in the history of electing presidents. The state has picked the winner since 1964 -- and no Republican has won the White House without Ohio. Romney has a tougher time than Obama getting to 270 electoral votes without Ohio.

In 2008, Obama won Ohio with 51.5 percent of the vote to 46.6 percent for Sen. John McCain. The average on Monday night gave Obama a 2.2-percentage point lead in Ohio.

Ohio has remained a battleground largely because of its geographic, ethnic, racial and economic diversity. No one media market rules the state.

"Ohio is a microcosm of America," former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, told me. "I tell people if you would shrink America, you would end up in Ohio."

No one city dominates the politics of the state and each metro area has its own personality: Cincinnati has a Southern flavor; Cleveland is more Northeast; Columbus, Midwest. Add to that a portion of that state that is part of Appalachia.

"By far, the overwhelming issue in Ohio is jobs," John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, told me. The Romney and Obama ads running in Ohio markets -- by the campaigns and allies -- have a heavy focus on the economy.

The economic diversity of the state has kept the jobless rate below the national average the past year -- and that's to Obama's advantage.

Adding a "new wrinkle" in the 2012 contest, Green said, are energy issues that are unique to Ohio.

Ohio has new shale gas fields and a coal mining industry. Romney is accusing Obama of stifling Ohio energy producers through federal regulations and pledges on the stump and in an ad that is in heavy rotation in the Cincinnati market to assist in "producing our own energy in the ground in Ohio."

Working heavily against Romney is Obama's auto industry rescue -- an issue that resonates in a state where an enormous part of the economy depends on the health of the carmakers.

Romney Ohio director Scott Jennings told me that since the Denver debate where Romney bested Obama, "We have seen a hugh flow of momentum from Independents, swing voters, undecided's and soft Obama voters towards the Romney ticket."

About a third of Ohio voters are expected to vote before election day. Aaron Pickrell, a senior adviser to the Obama Ohio campaign, told me that gives Obama "a five-week window to get every supporter of the president out to vote."

Anitsa Zalants, 48, is the owner of Mercene's Gorgeous Hunk of Junk shop in Lebanon, a town where Romney held a large rally last Saturday. She voted for McCain in 2008 and is undecided in 2012. "I am concerned about the health care because I do have some health issues of my own."

The debates -- one is Tuesday, when Romney and Obama have a showdown at Hofstra University -- will help her decide. "I like to be open minded until the very end."

Kathy Axiotes, 55, her sister and a co-owner of the shop, voted for Obama in 2008, and after seeing Romney at the rally decided to vote for him. "I've been disenchanted I think over the past four years" with many of her female friends "struggling to make ends meet." Everything she heard Romney say was "positive," she said. "And I just think it is time for a change."

FOOTNOTE: Obama returns to Chicago on Oct. 25 to cast his own early ballot.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

CNN's Candy Crowley moderates the presidential debate Tuesday night at Hofstra University. At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, I asked Crowley how she was preparing for the role.

BLUE ASH, OHIO--Mitt Romney's fundraising team raised $171 million in September between his campaign and the Republican National Coommittee, his campaign announced Monday night. That's about $10 million less than the Obama team raised in September.


In August, Romney's campaign and the Republican National Committee raised $111 million to $114 million for Obama and the Democratic National Committee.

In July, Romney and the Republican National Committee raised $101.3 million to Obama and Democratic National Committee total of $75 million.

in June, Romney raised $106.1 million combo to $71 million for Obama combo

In May, Romney collected $76.8 million combo to Obama's $60 million combo

BLUE ASH, has a new spot slamming Mitt Romney on women's issues featuring Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria & Kerry Washington.

Michelle Obama votes by mail--October 15th
Michelle Obama holds her absentee Chicago ballot
(Obama for America photo)


CINCINNATI, OHIO--President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle will be not be voting from Chicago on election day--on Monday, they announced they are voting early in a bid to lock-in votes in crucial battleground states, especially Ohio. Obama will be in Chicago on Oct. 25 to cast his early ballot.

Stumping in Delaware, Ohio--one of two Ohio stops--Mrs. Obama said, "Today! I voted for my husband! Yes! It felt so good. Right now, my absentee ballot, it's on its way to Illinois, my home state -- -- which means that we are one vote closer to reelecting my husband and moving this country forward for four more years. So forgive me if I'm a little excited today -- for me, it was Election Day. So I just have to relax."

The Obama and Romney campaigns are running enormous early vote drives in Ohio.

Mrs. Obama at first announced her early vote to @barackobama via Twitter, where she has 1.8 million followers. "I just dropped my absentee ballot in the mail - I couldn't wait for Election Day! Love you!" she wrote.

In reply, Obama sent out this on his Twitter feed: "I'm following @michelleobama's example and voting early, on October 25. If your state has early voting, join me."

GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, stumping at an airfield here Monday also pushed early voting.

paul ryan cincinnati.JPG

paul ryan believe in america plane.JPG

top: Paul Ryan stumping at Cincinnati's Luken Field, Oct. 15, 2012. bottom: Ryan's "Believe in America" campaign plane.
(photos by Lynn Sweet)

CINCINNATI, OHIO--GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan touched down for a Monday rally at an airfield here where he told supporters to vote early, as the Romney/Obama campaigns are running drives to lock down support as soon as possible in this crucial battleground state.

"You know you have a big say," Ryan said, with his campaign plane used as a backdrop. "...You understand your opportunity, right?" Ryan stressed his Ohio connection--he is a graduate of Miami of Ohio.

Ryan also told the crowd to appeal to disappointed Obama voters-a strategy the Romney/Ryan ticket has been increasingly using since the GOP convention in Tampa.

Earlier Monday, Ryan held a town hall in Waukesa, Wisc. After the rally, Ryan flies to New York for a fund-raiser.

BLUE ASH, Ohio -- President Barack Obama knew he flopped in his first debate with Mitt Romney as soon as he walked off the stage in Denver -- and didn't change his mind once he saw it on tape.

Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday's "State of the Union" about Obama's harsh self-assessment -- and how when he meets Romney in their second debate on Tuesday, "he has to be more energetic."

The rivals will meet at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. in a session moderated by Crowley. The format is different -- much trickier.

Moderators asked the questions at the first debate at the University of Denver and the vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky., with Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan.

The 90-minute Hofsta showdown will be a "town hall," with questions on foreign and domestic policy coming from Crowley and an audience of about 80 uncommitted voters from around the Hempstead area selected by the Gallup Organization.

The extra challenge is to factor in unpredictable questions from voters -- and to deal with a different set of optics. Instead of worrying about how a split screen will show reactions, the faces and tone of a voter/questioner may also have an impact.

Much has been made for example, of Biden's laughing and smiling at Ryan; a candidate reacts like that to a voter at his own peril.

The next presidential debate is dramatically more important because Romney's strong showing in Denver energized his backers, added to his crowds and for the first time, gave him an edge in national and battleground state polls.

Romney is stumping with a new exuberance -- on display Saturday at a rally in the GOP stronghold of Lebanon, a small town in Ohio, a battleground state.

"Now about a week ago I had a debate and I did enjoy myself," Romney said as the large crowd roared. "It was a very helpful opportunity."

Obama and Romney prepped for Hofstra on Sunday. Obama camped at the Kingsmill resort in Williamsburg, Va., a battleground state; Romney practiced at a hotel in the Boston suburbs.

Meanwhile, their top aides worked the Sunday shows.

Gibbs said sarcastically about the first debate, "I think Mitt Romney's performance was, indeed, magical and theatrical. Magical and theatrical largely because for 90 minutes he walked away from a campaign he had been running for more than six years previous to that."

That brings me to . . .


Here's a look at unfinished business that is likely to come up on Tuesday -- whether from Crowley, the audience or Romney and Obama:

1. Will Obama call Romney a liar? To his face? And how does he do it without turning off voters?

Obama's advisers have been saying a reason Obama did so poorly in Denver was while he was prepared for Romney to be aggressive, Obama did not expect Romney -- and this is what they are saying -- to lie about his record. But as we know, Obama did not call out Romney at the time.

Former President Bill Clinton called Romney in a quip, "He's old Moderate Mitt."

Said Gibbs on CNN, "People in these battleground states understand that Mitt Romney can walk away from his positions in a 90-minute debate, but they can't walk away from the campaign and the record that he has established over the past many years.

Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie told Crowley, "The president can change his style. He can change his tactics. He can't change his record. And he can't change his policies. And that's what this election is about."

2. How will Obama clean up after Biden's statement at his debate regarding the murders of four U.S. diplomats in Libya. Biden said that "we weren't told" more security was needed at the consulate in Benghazi.

That contradicted what State Department officials said.

This comes down to what Biden meant when he said the word "we," and that kind of hair-splitting will not make Obama look presidential.

The Obama team is making this distinction: The White House did not know, the State Department did.

3. Will Obama bring up Romney's tenure at Bain? That has been a major Democratic hit against Romney for months -- but did not come up at Denver or Centre. Romney, trying to safeguard himself from attacks about Bain sending U.S. jobs overseas, has been blaming Obama -- on the stump and in ads -- on what he is calling "cheating" by China when it comes to trading with the U.S.

4. Romney has a flank exposed when it comes to abortion. At issue is whether Romney, who does not support abortion rights, wants to actively try to reverse Roe v. Wade. He told the Des Moines Register he will not ask Congress for abortion-related measures. However, Romney has backed congressional proposals to erode abortion rights. Ryan sidestepped that question at Centre.

The last debate is Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. -- another battleground state.

Twenty-three Jewish organizations, including a variety of north suburban synagogues, are partnering in a 7:30 p.m. Monday candidate forum at B'nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim, 1201 Lake Cook Road in Deerfield. The North Shore Jewish Community Candidate Forum is the major Jewish community event of the general election cycle and includes contenders for Congress and Illinois state House and Senate.

The forum is non-partisan and all candidates were invited. Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.) declined because "unfortunately, we could not come to an agreement with the organizers over the format," Dold spokesman John McGovern said. A forum organizer told me they offered to change the format to Dold's liking because they wanted Dold to attend the event.

The meet-the-candidate forum is not a debate: questions--about Middle East and domestic issues-- were to be given to the candidates in advance with no follow-ups. The forum will be moderated by BJBE Rabbi Brian Stoller, a former press secretary for former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.)

Jewish community issues play an important role in the 10th congressional district race, where Dold is running against Democrat Brad Schneider.

Dold and Schneider debated in a session broadcast Sunday on ABC7 Chicago sponsored with the League of Women Voters of Illinois. They also debated Sunday at Lake Forest High School.

Obama Oct. 15 week ahead

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BLUE ASH, OHIO--A new Mitt Romney ad released on Sunday uses video from the Biden/Ryan debate--and features the split screen reaction shots of Biden smiling and laughing while Ryan is talking about the economy. The spot makes no mention of the Biden gestures: the Romney team lets the pictures speak for themselves.

Morgan Freeman voices Obama ad

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(video by Lynn Sweet)

LEBANON, OHIO--Mitt Romney, at a rally here Saturday said President Barack Obama's "campaign keeps getting smaller and smaller as he talks about Big Bird and so forth and our crowds keep getting bigger and bigger. There is more of a cresendo and passion for change in Washington and getting a new president."

BACKGROUND: Mitt Romney--who brought up Sesame Street's Big Bird at his first debate with President Barack Obama--in talking about cutting the subsidy to PBS even though he liked Big Bird--wound up getting mocked by Obama--with Democrats sending a Big Bird character to Romney/Ryan events.

DANVILLE, KY--No clear winner emerged from the Joe Biden/Paul Ryan vice presidential debate, according to two instant polls from CNN and CBS.

* - Ryan 48, Biden 44

* - Biden 50, Ryan 31

(video by Lynn Sweet)

DANVILLE, KY--The scene in the Spin Room after the Joe Biden/Paul Ryan vice presidential debate at Centre College. That's Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in the picture.

Biden deftly defends Obama

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DANVILLE, Ky. -- Joe Biden deftly defended President Barack Obama's record at Thursday's vice presidential debate, swatting down Paul Ryan, who didn't score playing dodge ball.

I'm a bit torn over whether Ryan's biggest mistake was offering little about Mitt Romney's vision for the nation or his refusal to answer some major questions about abortion, jobs and when U.S. troops should be sent to war.

Ryan, 42, looked very junior to Biden, who turns 70 next month -- that he could not help. When Ryan invoked former President Ronald Reagan's name when the debate turned to bipartisanship, Biden remind him how he was in the room with Reagan in 1983 when "we all got together" to save Social Security.

After Obama's Denver debate debacle last week -- where Obama stood passively while Mitt Romney beat him up -- Biden arrived at Centre College for the one and only showdown with Ryan having to stop Romney's new surge of momenteum.

Ryan was an unartful dodger. Here are two examples that jumped out at me:

Near the end of the debate, when moderator ABC's Martha Raddatz asked about abortion -- if a backer of abortion rights should be worried about a Romney presidency -- Ryan avoided an answer. The point was not about who supports abortion rights -- Biden does, Ryan does not -- but rather if a Romney administration would be proactive in trying to reverse Roe vs. Wade.

And with unemployment a defining issue in the presidential contest, Ryan totally sidestepped a question about if it was possible to get unemployment to 6 percent --and if so, how long would it take.

This was an important question because so far in this campaign, Romney has never, ever said what the jobless rate would be if he were president. The most Romney has ever said was that he would create 12 million new jobs.

Last Friday, the jobless rate fell to 7.8 percent -- the lowest since Obama took office. Romney has been beating Obama up constantly for not getting the jobless rate below the 8 percent he promised he would.

Biden did answer. "We can and we will" get to 6 percent and "I don't know how long it will take."

The first 23 minutes of the 90-minute debate were spent on Libya, and I'll get to that. Within a minute of the turn to the economy, Biden jumped in where Obama would not tread last week -- on Romney's secretly recorded comment about how 47 percent of voters did not pay taxes.

Recounting the Obama record for helping the middle class, Biden said Romney was not offering much, "but it shouldn't be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives. . . . I've had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent -- it's about time they take some responsibility here."

Ryan came back with a good line: "And with respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way."

The Ryan and Biden clash over the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya -- where the U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats were killed -- comes as Romney has been escalating his criticism of Obama's Middle East policy.

With an assist from Republicans in Congress, Obama has been on the defensive over the attacks -- especially since United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice initially said they were the result of a mob incited by a video produced in the U.S. that disparaged Muslims.

There was a heated hearing about security at the consulate Thursday conducted by the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In Romney's Monday foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney scolded Obama's White House for taking its time in conceding that "the attacks against us in Libya were not an isolated incident" and were part of a post-Arab Spring anti-Americanism.

Biden said "we will find and bring to justice the men who did this. . . . Wherever the facts lead us, wherever they lead us, we will make clear to the American public, because whatever mistakes were made will not be made again."

Since Biden had already acknowledged mistakes may have been made, Ryan didn't add much when he said, "It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack?'

Biden started to fix the problem. Next Tuesday, at the second presidential debate, Obama will have to live up to the Biden standard, or Romney will wipe him out again.

DANVILLE, KY--Google tracked search terms during the Thursday vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan:

Top rising searches during the debate (8:45pm - 10:45pm EDT)

1. biden
2. conflating
3. malarkey
4. who is winning the debate
5. how old is paul ryan

Top related searches for "Biden" (8:45pm - 10:45pm EDT)

1. Ryan Debate
2. How Old Is
3. Laughing
4. Jill

Top related searches for "Ryan" (8:45pm - 10:45pm EDT)

1. Biden Debate
2. How Old Is
3. Shirtless
4. Workout

(Google graphic)

DANVILLE, KY--Google search interest in Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan is big in Washington D.C. with the battleground states otherwise running ahead in the past 30 days, according to a Google analysis.

Top states searching for Joe Biden
Washington D.C.

Top states searching for Paul Ryan
New Hampshire
Washington D.C.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

DANVILLE, KY.--Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear--here for the vice presidential debate Thursday night at Centre College here--previews the challenges for Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

DANVILLE, KY--Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan face off Thursday in their one and only debate in a state that is the birthplace of Bourbon. Before the debate at Centre College, a variety of Kentucky distillers offered samples at a welcome reception on Wednesday night. In the video above, I talked with Eric Gregory, the president of the Kentucky Distillers Association, about why Kentucky Bourbon is special.

From "Total Bourbon inventory reached 4.7 million barrels in 2010, the highest it's been since 1982. That means there are more barrels of Bourbon aging in the Commonwealth than
there are people (4.3 million)."

DANVILLE, KY.--The Obama and Romney teams have top campaign officials and surrogates at the vice presidential debate in order to provide reaction to the Thursday debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan--including to members of the Illinois delegation to Congress. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has spin room duty for President Barack Obama; Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) will be here for the Mitt Romney campaign.

DANVILLE, KY.--President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are in a dead heat in Virginia and Florida while Obama is further ahead in Ohio, according to new NBC NEWS/WSJ/MARIST COLLEGE battleground state polls released Thursday. The polls were taken after Obama's lackluster debate last week had an impact.

VA: Romney 48%, Obama 47%

FL: Obama 48%, Romney 47%

OH: Obama 51%, Romney 45%





The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee-- the DCCC--- on Wednesday disclosed that it is trimming back Chicago television time that had been banked--about $740,000 in time reserved.

The DCCC--the House Democratic political operation-- had reserved about $3 million in Chicago television time for Democratic nominees Tammy Duckworth (8th) Brad Schneider (10th) and Bill Foster (11th.)

Clarification: Speculation about the reason given for reducing the buy: Because Democrat Tammy Duckworth is in good shape to win the eighth congressional district seat over Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.)

The way it works: The DCCC--as do other campaign committees--reserves time for candidates way in advance. Whether the money gets spent depends on how a candidate is doing. The political shops don't throw money in races where a candidate is running very strong or very poorly.

Schneider and Foster still have chunks of DCCC money in the pipeline.

The latest campaign fund-raising report for Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), filed on Oct. 6, shows a balance of $113,055 for the last quarter, compared to the July quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission showing a bottom line of $246,625.

Jackson remains on a trajectory to win re-election in November against two nominal opponents, even as he remains in recovery for his bi-polar and gastric disorders and out of public sight since mid-June. However, his campaign--managed by his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), has been doing a small bit of fund-raising and paying some expenses these past months--as his fund balance dwindles.

The October quarterly FEC report shows $11,280 raised, $85,470 spent and $113,055 cash-on-hand. The disbursements continue to include a $5,000-a-month payment to Ald. Jackson's firm, based in the Jackson family home in Washington D.C. Most of the contributions came from political action committees.

For the first time, Mitt Romney is ahead of Barack Obama in polls -- chipping away at Obama's hold on women voters and gaining in favorability ratings.

Romney also has pulled ahead of Obama in surveys in several battleground states key to winning the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the White House.

The new numbers out Monday and Tuesday take into account Romney besting Obama in last Wednesday's debate.

With 27 days until the election, Romney's lead at present is fragile -- but significant in that the trend is going toward him, not Obama.

RealClearPolitics rolling daily average of national polls put Romney in the lead for the first time on this week, with the spread 0.7 in Romney's favor.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of Obama's top surrogates, said Tuesday there's plenty that can happen between now and Nov. 6 to influence the outcome.

"We have four weeks, a vice presidential debate, two presidential debates, a lot of campaigning, and some events that you and I can't even predict are going to occur in the next four weeks," Durbin told CNN.

Stats highlights:

GALLUP: Gallup's poll out Tuesday of likely voters -- Gallup's first snapshot of likely voters this election cycle -- puts Romney at 49 percent to 47 percent for Obama.

Romney's lead in the survey, taken Oct. 2-8 (the Denver debate was Oct. 3) is not statistically significant, but it does highlight the "competitive nature of the election," according to Gallup.

Gallup at this stage is focusing more on likely voters -- rather than the bigger universe of registered voters -- because the point now is to focus on voters who will actually cast a ballot.

In the same poll, registered voters preferred Obama 49 percent to Romney at 46 percent.

Converting registered voters to actual voters is part of a massive effort of the Romney and Obama campaigns to turn out their votes. All the ads, debates, conventions, rallies -- none of that counts if a campaign cannot get a supporter to register and then vote.

Gallup concluded that "Romney at this point appears to have a turnout advantage, meaning that Obama will need to develop a strong lead among all registered voters in order to be assured of winning the actual vote."

If the election were today, Gallup bottom line: "the race would be too close to call."

PEW RESEARCH: The Pew Research Center likely voter survey, released Monday, put Romney at 49 percent to Obama's 45 percent. What a reversal.

Last month, Obama was ahead at 51 percent to 45 percent for Romney. Now more voters see themselves as Republicans -- a switch.

Among registered voters, Romney and Obama were tied at 46 percent each.

The Pew poll was taken Oct. 4-7 and shows the battering Obama took from his poor debate performance. Romney did the better job in the debate, according to 66 percent of all voters, to 20 percent who said Obama was better.

One number to keep an eye on: An overwhelming 72 percent of Independents said Romney won Denver.

And just what is happening with women voters?

The female vote has always been seen as crucial to Obama, with the president through the years having strong support especially from unmarried women.

The PEW survey detected a potential landmine for Obama: Women broke evenly for Obama and Romney, 47 percent each. The drop for Obama was steep; in September, Obama led Romney among likely women voters 56 percent to 38 percent.

Romney is also gaining in favorability ratings, PEW found, with Obama's advantage eroding. In September, Romney's favorable was 42 percent to Obama's 60 percent. In the October survey, Romney's jumped to 51 percent favorable while Obama dropped to 51 percent.

SWING STATES: RealClearPolitics tracking averages show Romney gaining in the crucial battleground states.

Before the debate, almost every swing state survey gave the lead to Obama.

RCP tracking of the latest polls by non-campaign sources puts Romney ahead in Florida, 0.7; North Carolina, 3; Colorado, 0.5.

Obama takes the lead in Virginia, 0.3; Ohio, 0.7; Iowa, 3.2.

Romney campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom was cautiously gleeful in an MSNBC interview. A week ago, when polls put Romney behind, stories were being written about how the Romney campaign was in dissaray.

When "we were being questioned about the state of the race, and our advice was to simply caution everybody to be patient; that there's going to be a lot of ups and downs in this campaign, but it's going to be tight right until the end. And we believe that to be the case, and I believe the president and his campaign share that view," Fehrnstrom said.

They do.

Obama spokesman Jen Psaki, after being asked about the PEW poll said, "The one thing I will say is that we've always felt this race would be close."

And it is.

A top House GOP leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) stumps and fundraises Wednesday for Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), who is downplaying his party affiliation in his battle with Democrat Brad Schneider for the tenth Congressional District seat.

Dold is getting assistance from Cantor, the Majority Leader--and the National Republican Congressional Committee--as he positions himself -as he did in a television spot running in Chicago this week--as "Independent" and "Bi-Partisan" rather than highlighting that he is a Republican.

The North Shore tenth district is heavily Jewish and Cantor is the top Jewish Republican in Congress. Dold needs Democratic cross-over voters to be re-elected to the tenth, remapped by Illinois Democrats to tilt Democrat.

Cantor is scheduled to drop by Dold's Highland Park headquarters on Wednesday for a get-out-the-vote event conducted in connection with the Republican Jewish Coalition, according to a notice on an RJC website. Cantor is also headlining a $500-per-person fund-raiser at a home in Highland Park on Wednesday.

According to Federal Election Commission records as of Tuesday, the NRCC, the GOP House political shop, so far has pumped $735,500 in the race to bolster Dold. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic House political operation, has spent about $130, 624 to assist Schneider.

Mitt Romney delivered another major foreign policy speech on Monday, and he -- as did Barack Obama when he was running for president in 2008 -- talks as if he thinks world leaders, terrorists and rogue operators will snap to attention and do what the United States wants because there is a new man in the White House.

Romney focused much of his speech on turmoil in the Middle East as he stepped up his criticism of Obama over his handling of upheavals in Syria, Egypt and Libya, where the U.S. ambassador was recently murdered; the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the dire threat Iran poses if it builds a nuclear weapon.

In terms of what Romney would actually, specifically do differently from Obama -- send weapons to rebel forces in Syria, for example -- Romney has yet to spell it out.

Romney has some points: the Obama administation has explaining to do about the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya. But this "leading from behind" -- what Romney accused Obama of doing -- is a slogan. Voters deserve a country situation-specific strategy.

Said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "In terms of Libya, for instance, I mean, at first he was for the intervention. Now he's against it. It's unclear where he is on Syria, for instance, where at one stage I thought I heard him say earlier -- not in the speech but earlier -- that he would arm the rebels. Now he's kind of just saying that might help them in some way."

Speaking at the Virginia Military Institute in the battleground state of Virginia, Romney framed his criticisms of Obama's foreign policy with cutting words.

"Hope is not a strategy," he said, using language calculated to woo disappointed Obama 2008 voters.

Romney's policy director, Lanhee Chen, was more blunt in the fund-raising appeal that came a few hours later, pegged to Romney's speech.

"President Obama's foreign policy is a foreign concept to Americans. His policy is one of passivity and denial, which places America and our allies at the mercy of those who mean to do us harm. Despite all the recent catastrophes, President Obama continues to show that he does not grasp the gravity of what's occurring -- and he has no strategy to protect and advance our interests," Chen wrote.

Romney's speech comes before the Thursday vice presidential debate, when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Romney's running mate, faces off against Vice President Joe Biden, who has been immersed in foreign policy for decades. Foreign as well as domestic policy is expected to be on the debate agenda. The speech is also an attempt to help Ryan by trying to put Biden on the defensive going into the debate.

"But when we look at the Middle East today, with Iran closer than ever to nuclear weapons capability, with the conflict in Syria threatening to destabilize the region and with violent extremists on the march, and with an American ambassador and three others dead -- likely at the hands of al-Qaida affiliates -- it's clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office," Romney said.

To this, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt retorted, "Today Mitt Romney once again tried to engage the president on foreign policy, and we have a simple message for him: Bring it on."

More observations:

◆ The Obama administration needs to explain why security was lax at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, where U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and others were murdered on Sept. 11.

"As the dust settles, as the murdered are buried, Americans are asking how this happened, how the threats we face have grown worse and what this calls on America to do. These are the right questions," said Romney. And Romney would do . . . what?

◆ Romney is misleading when he said, "The president explicitly stated that his goal was to put daylight between the United States and Israel, and he's succeeded."

Romney apparently is referring to a 2009 meeting Obama had with U.S. Jewish leaders at the White House. While it has never been clear that's exactly what Obama said -- there is no transcript -- Obama has said numerous times since that there is no daylight between the U.S. and Israel.

◆ Two-state or no-state? But we do have that secretly recorded videotape of what Romney said about the Israeli/Palestinian two-state solution. In the video, Romney said the Palestinians had "no interest whatsoever" in a peace deal.

Yet on Monday he said, "I'll recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."

◆ Romney said he will "call on" NATO allies to pay their share -- ignoring that the Obama administration stepped up efforts to do just that in advance of the Chicago NATO Summit last May.

ryan no video audio.jpeg
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

ROSEMONT, ILL.--Audio and video recordings are banned at Mitt Romney fund-raisers.

GOP vice presidential nominee at a Sunday fundraiser in a Chicago suburb did not mention Romney's controversial 47 percent video in his remarks at the reception, which a pool reporter covered.

Mitt Romney's seemingly disparaging comments about 47 percent of voters was caught at a secretly recorded video at a Romney fund-raiser in Florida.

Outside the Ryan Sunday event at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare was a sign: "No video or audio recordings allowed . . . thank you in advance for your understanding and cooperation."

GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan took a break from cramming for his Thursday debate with Vice President Joe Biden to haul $2.5 million from a Sunday fund-raiser at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in Rosemont.

First, some Mitt Romney/Illinois fund-raising updates -- then I'll give you a fill on how Ryan and Biden are preparing for their showdown.

On the campaign cash front, the checks have been totaled from the fund-raiser Romney headlined last month in Lake Forest, and the take was $4.4 million.

That's the "largest single Republican fund-raiser in Illinois history," State Treasurer and Romney Illinois chairman Dan Rutherford told me Sunday.

Since the primary, Illinois donors have raised, on President Barack Obama's home turf, more than $20 million, Illinois finance co-chair Ty Fahner told me just before the Ryan event started.

"You know, Illinois has done a lot of good for this country," Ryan said at the Rosemont reception, where tickets ranged from $2,500 to $75,800-per-person.

"Illinois has also sent some other people to serve our country. This isn't a personal thing with President Obama, nothing like that. It's just that his ideas don't work. He came in with all these grand promises, all this hope and this change, and didn't fulfill any of those promises," he said.

Intense debate prep

Ryan made the Illinois stop amid intense practice for the Thursday vice presidential debate -- there will be only one -- at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

After Romney bested Obama at their Denver debate last Wednesday, the Ryan team is braced for Biden "to come after us aggressively," a Romney/Ryan campaign official told me.

Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman, faces enormous challenges. A seven-term House member, Ryan has only been on the mega-national stage since Romney tapped him for the ticket Aug. 11.

Biden -- who ran twice for president -- has been in 18 presidential and vice presidential debates over the past two decades. He's been in office for 40 years -- as a senator or vice president.

Ryan has been memorizing statistics, phrases and language he might use -- and watching a slew of Biden debate and speech tapes.

He's been working on debate prep for almost a month, hunkering down the past several weeks, holding three mock debates as of Sunday.

While Romney and Obama were debating last Wednesday, Ryan was watching from his debate training camp at the Wintergreen Resort in battleground Virginia. Later this week, Ryan finishes up at another round of debate prep holed up near Tampa -- in battleground Florida.

Ryan's delivery also has to factor in a generational gap. He has to look the role.

Ryan, a youthful looking 42, will spar with Biden, who turns 70 on Nov. 20. Ryan was 2 years old when Biden was first elected to the Senate. That's a reason Ryan's sparring partner is Ted Olson, 72, a former solicitor general who -- as does Biden -- has a down-to-earth manner.

Ryan's team is lowering expectations.

"A lot of people give Joe Biden grief for some verbal gaffes, but if you go back and look at his debates, he's always been a solid debater," the Romney/Ryan official said.

Ryan also is working on speaking in plain English -- he is prone to using a budgeteer's jargon.

Biden has his own challenges.

"Biden has to kind of clean up the mess from last week, and there is a lot of pressure on him," Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady told me. If Ryan "just gets up there and holds his own, that would be a victory for him."

Fahner said Biden's "charm and his bombast won't work here . . . he is going to have to answer to this, just like Obama was supposed to but failed to."

Biden's debate partner is Rep. Chris Van Hollen, 53, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee -- Ryan's counterpart.

Biden's debate camp is in Wilmington, Del., this week. Biden has had two mock debates with Maryland's Van Hollen -- and is studying tapes of Ryan interviews and speeches.

Ron Gidwitz, a Romney Illinois finance co-chair told me Romney's debate triumph has energized the Romney troops.

Said Gidwitz, "They went from a little bit down in the mouth overnight to excited, energized [and] recommitted."

Audio, video banned

Ryan did not mention Romney's 47 percent video in his remarks at the Rosemont reception, which a pool reporter was allowed to cover. (No pooler was at the brunch for jumbo donors.)

Romney's seemingly disparaging comments about 47 percent of voters was caught at a secretly recorded video at a Romney fund-raiser. Outside the Ryan event was a sign: "No video or audio recordings allowed . . . thank you in advance for your understanding and cooperation."

DENVER -- As a crowd waits for President Barack Obama to headline a rally -- at a park where the silouhettes of Rocky Mountain peaks are in the distance -- the music blaring is Journey's hit "Don't Stop Believin.' "

The 2012 Obama re-election is not the quasi-movement drive of 2008, so the tune is apt. An organizer on stage is quoting the song's title in urging people to register to vote by the Tuesday deadline.

It's Thursday, the day after the first presidential debate here, and Obama and Mitt Romney are hanging around to stump for part of the day -- each working to turn out their base vote in Colorado, a critical battleground state.

Obama is headlining the rally in a Democratic vote-rich part of the city.

Romney is making a surprise visit to the Colorado Conservative Political Action Conference.

Colorado and nine or 10 other swing states could determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. The battleground states account for about 100 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Colorado has nine.

All the Obama and Romney resources are being devoted almost exclusively to battleground states: television ads, get-out-the-vote drives, direct mail appeals and visits by the candidates or their top surrogates. The SuperPACs supporting Obama and Romney play exclusively in the battleground states.

Obama invested a lot in Colorado in 2008; the Democratic National Convention was here and his campaign used it as a giant organizing tool. Obama won Colorado in 2008, beating GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by almost nine points. Pre-debate polls had Obama ahead by a few points.

Romney's strong debate performance had an impact. The first post-debate poll, by Gravis Marketing, puts Romney ahead at 49.36 percent to Obama's 45.87 percent. The survey of 1,285 likely voters was taken Oct. 3-4 with a 2.8 percent margin of error.

Colorado has a growing Hispanic population and an influx of highly educated, environmentally aware residents.

I asked Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a geologist by training and a former restaurant owner, why Colorado is such a battleground.

"So many people have moved here from other places," he said. "So we have this dynamic here, equally one-third Democrats, one-third Republicans and one third Independents," Hickenlooper, a Democrat, told me. "So it means there's a lot of people out there willing to listen and to be moved one way or the other."

Those independents "don't want to define themselves with one party or another," the governor said.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) told me Democrats have been able to make inroads in Republican turf in the Rocky Mountain West because "We are Libertarians, we are fiscally conservative and we are environmentally conscious."

Dick Wadhams, a Republican political consultant and a former chair of the Colorado Republican Party, told me a constant influx of new voters "makes our politics constantly competitive, because there is always this churning of new people coming in from out of state."

Two swing counties near Denver -- Jefferson and Arapahoe -- could determine the outcome in Colorado, Wadhams said. They are full of "unaffiliated voters and in many cases Republican women [who] are always up for grabs, so that makes it very competitive."

Each campaign is running a massive Colorado ground game, door-knocking and phone-calling. Romney, with 14 offices across the state, has a stronger operation here than did McCain in 2008; Obama has 59 offices.

In states that are solidly for Romney or Obama -- as is the case in Illinois -- there are no television ads running, so red or blue state voters miss the most rugged combat in the presidential campaign.

Television spots to benefit Romney and Obama -- by the campaigns and the SuperPACs supporting them -- are an overwhelming presence on Denver television.

During one 10-minute period on Wednesday morning in Denver I saw five spots:

† A Romney campaign ad portraying Romney as a "common sense" conservative and Obama as a super liberal.

† A spot by the pro-Romney American Crossroads SuperPAC slamming Obama on the high jobless rate.

† An Obama campaign spot where the entire narrative is Romney's voice from that 47 percent tape -- run over pictures of middle-class-looking people who seemed down and out.

Obama was second-guessed for not hitting Romney over the 47 percent comments at the debate. Obama's paid advertising was doing the talking for him.

† An Obama ad aiming to negate a Romney spot where he said both rivals care about the poor. A narrator says if Romney "really cares, wouldn't we see it in his priorities?"

† Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama SuperPAC -- the one Mayor Rahm Emanuel is fund-raising for -- has a spot targeting Independents featuring a female small-business owner who voted for Romney when he ran for Massachusetts governor.

"I feel like I was duped by Mitt Romney," she explains. "I'm voting for President Obama." The spot is intended to help level the playing field as the Romney team woos disappointed Obama 2008 voters.

About 5 percent of Colorado voters are still undecided.

Whitney Nielson, 26, a hairstylist from Denver who voted for Obama in 2008, told me the three remaining presidential and vice presidential debates will help her make up her mind. On Wednesday, "Romney just handled himself better; I still like what Obama stands for and I've always been a Democrat."

Brendon Allen, 34, a commercial real estate consultant from Denver who supported McCain in 2008, told me he wasn't sure who will get his vote.

Said Allen, "It's going to be a game-time decision for me."

President Barack Obama knew he did poorly in his debate last week with Mitt Romney, senior strategist David Axelrod told Bob Schieffer Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"Well, I think the president understands -- you know, the president is his harshest critic. And without getting into detail, I think you can assume that he's reviewed the tape, and it will inform -- it will inform how he handles these subsequent debates," Axelrod said.

Schieffer asked, "Do you think he was ill prepared? Some are saying it was the people that prepared him. You were in the room most of the time.

"I was one of the people who prepared him. I'm happy to take whatever responsibility people want to assign to me.

"I think it was more what I said though. I think he went thinking that this was going to be a discussion about the country's future, and he was confronted with this kind of gantry-esque performance on the other side just serially rewriting history before his eyes."

Gantry as in Elmer Gantry, the fictional evangelist, Schieffer asked.

"Yes," Axelrod said.

Gantry is the character created by Sinclair Lewis in his 1926 novel. Actor Burt Lancaster won the 1960 Academy Award for best actor of portrayal of Gantry in the film.

Axelrod is not making a flattering reference.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

ROSEMONT, Ill.--GOP Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan is a headlining a Sunday fund-raising reception and brunch in this Chicago suburb--days before his Thursday debate with Vice President Joe Biden in Danville, Ky. I asked the Romney Illinois chairman, Dan Rutherford, the Illinois Romney chairman what Ryan has to do beat Biden. Click on the video for Rutherford's advice.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina announced Saturday raising $181 million in September, between the campaign and the Democratic National Committee, the biggest month of the 2012 campaign. Mitt Romney's campaign has not released September totals.


In August, Romney's campaign and the Republican National Committee raised $111 million to $114 million for Obama and the Democratic National Committee.

In July, Romney and the Republican National Committee raised $101.3 million to Obama and Democratic National Committee total of $75 million.

in June, Romney raised $106.1 million combo to $71 million for Obama combo

In May, Romney collected $76.8 million combo to Obama's $60 million combo

Click below for the Messina memo...

Chicago Bear running back Matt Forté along with Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Indianapolis Colts safety Antoine Bethea urge voters to "get off the sidelines" and vote for President Barack Obama in a video released on Friday. It's part of a massive voter registration and early voting drive by the Obama campaign.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Obama Senior Advisor David Axelrod jumped into a heated Calfornia House on Thursday, headlining a fund-raiser in Chicago for Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif).

Berman is pitted against another Democrat--Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.)
-- in a race that is dividing parts of the Democratic family as it escalates.

The price: $500-$2,500. Below, the invite....

Evening Reception and Political Discussion
in support of
Ranking Democrat, House Foreign Affairs Committee
With Special Guests
Senior Strategist to the Obama Re-election Campaign
Thursday, October 4th
6:00PM - 8:00PM
Petterino's Restaurant
150 North Dearborn Street
Chicago, Illinois

DENVER -- President Barack Obama is retooling after getting thumped by Mitt Romney in Wednesday's debate.

Obama played it too safe -- but he won't at the next debate on Oct. 16 and in the lead-up to it, his top advisers said on Thursday -- a tacit admission that Obama let himself become a punching bag for Romney.

The Obama team was not quite in a panic -- but they know they have to get more serious. As one person in the Obama orbit put it, "the question is now going to be, can Obama throw a punch that will land -- or will it be one that Mitt can push aside?"

Here's the situation:

1. Obama's team was braced for his poor performance. They've been to this movie before.

Obama blew his first Democratic primary debates in his 2008 campaign and on Wednesday was just too rusty at the podium--which he is not used to sharing with someone who is not his equal.

To remedy this, there will be more extensive preparation for Obama before the next showdown -- now much higher stakes for Obama -- at Hofstra University. Obama will set up debate camp at the end of next week in Williamsburg, Va.

Obama may not be adding more rehearsal time -- but as senior adviser David Axelrod says, he's going to be more strategic about how he uses it.

And on Obama's debate sparring partner -- Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who wants to be secretary of state in a second Obama term -- with his future in the balance, will he be able to be more aggressive and push back against Obama now that Romney has shown his stuff?

2. Obama and his team made a tactical decision -- in error it turned out -- to not strongly confront Romney when he made what they consider misleading statements or lies.

To remedy this, Obama and his team -- starting Thursday morning at a rally here -- is going to be much more aggressive in calling Romney out. Watch for even harder-hitting ads from the campaign and allied SuperPAC.

"When I got onto the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney," Obama said in a mocking tone at an outdoor rally with a friendly crowd.

"But it -- but it couldn't have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow onstage last night said he didn't know anything about that."

David Plouffe, a White House senior adviser who managed Obama's 2008 campaign, said
going forward, "We obviously are going to have to adjust for the fact of Mitt Romney's dishonesty. So that's something we have to basically make sure people understand."

Senior adviser David Axelrod in a briefing call with reporters, discussing the strategy shifts, said Obama "made a choice last night to answer the questions that were asked and to talk to the American people about what we need to do to move forward, and not to get into serial fact-checking with Gov. Romney, which can be an exhausting, never-ending pursuit.

"But obviously, moving forward, you know, we're going to take a hard look at this and we're going to -- and we're going to have to make some judgments as to where to draw the lines in these debates and how to use -- how to use our time.

"In terms of changes and such, these things are always -- you know, it's like a -- it's like a -- playoffs in sports. You evaluate after every contest and you make adjustments, and I'm sure that we will make adjustments. I don't see us adding huge amounts of additional prep time. I think there are some strategic judgments that have to be made, and we'll make them."

3. Style counts. Obama didn't look good. Romney did. The Republican National Committee whipped up a video released Thursday morning entirely devoted to Obama's supposed "smirk" during part of the debate.

To remedy this, the Obama team for starters is studying the debate tape for its performance aspects. They know Obama has to be the guy you want to have a beer with.

"He didn't view it, perhaps as much as Gov. Romney did, as a performance," Axelrod said. "And, you know, I readily concede that that's not the president's strong suit in these -- in these events. . . .
I'm sure that he will consider his approach moving forward."

DENVER--President Barack Obama mocked Mitt Romney at a Thursday rally here--the day after his weak debate performance--for going after Big Bird. "Thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird. It's about time," Obama said.

"Now, last night Governor Romney ruled out raising a dime of taxes on anybody, ever, no matter how much money they make. He ruled out closing the loophole that gives oil companies $4 billion in corporate welfare. He refused to even acknowledge the loophole that gives tax breaks to corporations that shift jobs overseas," Obama said.

"And when he was asked what he'd actually do to cut the deficit and reduce spending, he said he'd eliminate funding for public television. That was his answer.

"I mean, thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird. It's about time.

"We didn't know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit. But that's what we heard last night. How about that?"

DENVER--A day after a weak debate with Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama tried to regain his footing at a Tuesday morning rally at a park here where he brought with him this taunt: which Romney did he debate?

With the Rockies as a backdrop, Obama said "When I got onto the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. But it -- but it couldn't have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow onstage last night said he didn't know anything about that.

"The real Mitt Romney said we don't need any more teachers in our classrooms," he said as the friendly crowd booed.

" But -- don't boo, vote. But the -- -- but the fellow onstage last night, he -- he loves teachers, can't get enough of them. The Mitt Romney we all know invested in companies that were called pioneers of outsourcing jobs to other countries. But the guy onstage last night, he said that he doesn't even know that there are such laws that encourage outsourcing. He's never heard of them, never heard of them, never heard of tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. He said that if it's true, he must need a new accountant. at Denver Obama rally.

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lynn100512.jpg chats with a supporter of President Barack Obama while waiting for the president to arrive at a rally at a park here, the day after the first presidential debate. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

RNC post debate: Obama's smirk

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DENVER--The Republican National Committee--seeking Thursday to leverage Mitt Romney's strong debate performance--released a video titled "Smirk"--featuring close-ups of President Barack Obama's facial expressions during one portion of the debate.

From the RNC: "We're out with a new video "Smirk" highlighting the president's debate performance where he was visibly uncomfortable as he struggled to give Americans answers on how he'll turn our country around with another four years. As Morning Joe said this morning - it appeared as if Obama thought debating was beneath him.

DENVER--President Barack Obama's campaign--looking for a comeback Thursday after Obama's weak performance at his Wednesday debate with Mitt Romney, released a video slamming Romney for being wrong on the facts.

From the campaign: "OFA has released a new web video - and the facts below tell the truth about Romney's devastating record for the middle class that he avoided tonight. Those facts matter, and Romney tonight showed once again that he's simply unwilling to give them to the American people."

DENVER--Mitt Romney decisively won the first debate on Wednesday night over President Barack Obama, according to a post-debate CNN poll.

CNN asked registered voters who won the debate and the answer: 67 percent Romney, 25 percent Obama.

DENVER--The controversial secretly recorded video tape of Mitt Romney--where he disparaged 47 percent of the voters as slackers-- did not come up in the Wednesday presidential debate in Denver. Neither President Barack Obama nor moderator Jim Lehrer brought up the subject. Romney chose not to use the debate to explain himself.

I asked Obama campaign spokesman Jen Psaki why the omissions.

Said Psaki, "99 percent of the country knows about it. ...the goal was not to come in and do a check list of complaints."

Obama in Chicago on election night

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DENVER--President Barack Obama will mark election night in Chicago--with the location not firmed up--but don't expect a repeat of the enormous 2008 celebration in Grant Park, I'm told.

Among the locations being looked at: U.S. Cellular Field, where the Chicago White Sox play. The ball park is near a rapid transit line and close enough to downtown hotels for donor events and housing.

Game schedules could rule out the United Center.

Suburban venues are also under consideration.

On the list but low is the Midway Plaisance, at the University of Chicago. Obama headlined a rally there right before the 2010 mid-term elections.

DENVER, Colo.-- Mitt Romney prevailed over President Barack Obama in their first debate on Wednesday -- with Obama not able to present a forceful defense of his tenure in office or why he deserved a second term.

Romney put Obama off his game.

Romney won -- but did not turn the contest "upside down" as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie predicted last Sunday. He beat Obama by a few points, not a knockout.

The best stomach punch from Romney: That Obama had misplaced priorities his first years in office and put all his efforts into getting Obamacare passed -- instead of jobs.

Obama never delivered a strong summary of what he did for job creation. He had a story to tell. He never told it.

Obama -- who had been advised he had to boil down complex issues -- rambled despite the warnings of his coaches. And he left on the table -- did not use -- anything about Romney not caring about 47 percent of the nation -- the stuff from that secret videotape.

Romney's team was surprised at the omission. Also noteworthy for what did not come up: Anything about Romney's tenure at Bain Capital.

"The president was either not prepared or meandered," Romney senior adviser Ron Kauffman told me after the debate.

And Obama could not find a way to shut down Romney after Romney, incorrectly, said Obama wants to cut $716 billion from Medicare -- when in fact what is at issue is future payments to providers, not patients.

While Romney outflanked Obama by being able to be more crisp and clear in explaining his vision for America, he exposed himself to backlash from senior voters by stating very clearly that he wants to turn Medicare into a voucher system, for future, not current, receipients.

Romney was right on this when it comes to Medicare: "The other thing we have to do to save Medicare, we have to have the benefits high for those that are low-income, but for higher-income people, we're going to have to lower some of the benefits."

But this is toxic to current seniors -- who may not be hearing Romney saying that these changes would not impact them.

Romney never offered up his long-awaited specifics on what programs he would cut to reduce government spending -- except Obamacare and PBS.

When Obama had the stuff, he delivered. On corporate welfare he said succinctly, "Does anyone think ExxonMobil needs more money?"

Obama has learned painfully that he was elected president, not king, in 2008 and all his optimism about working with Congress --creating a post-partisan era -- never happened.

When the rivals were asked about how they would break Washington gridlock by moderator Jim Lehrer, who was way too passive for my tastes, bringing up broad topics, not questions, Obama -- who has been through that ringer -- did a total takedown of Romney.

After Romney said he would get Democrats and Republicans to work together -- he would meet with the congressional leaders right away -- Obama delivered a big dose of reality to Romney, who has pledged to repeal Obamacare from Day One.

Said Obama, "Well, first of all, I think Governor Romney's going to have a busy first day, because he's also going to repeal 'Obamacare,' which will not be very popular among Democrats as you're sitting down with them."

One debate down, two to go.

(Video by Lynn Sweet)

Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is at the Denver debate and before it began, I asked her what President Barack Obama has to worry about.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

(video by Lynn Sweet)

DENVER, COL.--Aaron Sorkin--writer and creator of the West Wing and The Newsroom,--now playing on HBO--was asked Wednesday--a few hours before the first presidential debate-- how he would direct President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

In reply he told about how when actor Martin Sheen--in the first few weeks of West Wing--was sort of playing the role of president as if he were Teddy Roosevelt. Sheen had to be himself--and Romney's challenge is to be comfortable, Sorkin said.

Sorkin was commenting at a forum on "politics as theater" sponsored by Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy--on a question asked by director Alex Jones.

"The most comfortable I've ever seen Mitt Romney is on the 47 percent video," said Sorkin said. He needs "to be that comfortable" in his "own skin while not saying what (he) said."

Also on the panel: NBC's Chuck Todd and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Annenberg Public Policy Center director and former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wy.)

(video by Lynn Sweet)

DENVER, COL.--People were lining the streets to see President Barack Obama's motorcade arrive at the University of Denver Wednesday in advance of the first presidential debate. See it here!

DENVER, COL.--Obama campaign deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, in a pre-debate memo released Wednesday morning, made a reference to Clint Eastwood's empty chair speech at the Republican National Convention in predicting how people will rate their performances:

Said Cutter, "the American people aren't going to pick the winner of this debate based on style or good attack lines. If they were, then the Republican Convention's "empty chair" moment should have been a great success."

click below for entire memo

DENVER, COL.--The Republican National Committee is reviving President Barack Obama's 2008 promises in advance of Wednesday's first debate with Mitt Romney in a web video called "Fairy Tale" released this morning.

From the RNC: "President Obama will no doubt make new promises to the American people in tonight's debate, but how can we trust him after he broke the ones he made four years ago?" said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. "When will President Obama take responsibility for running four trillion dollar deficits after promising to cut the deficit in half? How about promising to create five million new green jobs, while giving taxpayer money to Solyndra? On issue after issue and promise after promise, this president has not been able to keep his word. Bill Clinton was right--this president is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."

DENVER -- Passengers at the airport here heard a cheerful message on the train from the terminal to baggage claim on Tuesday: Watch the presidential debate Wednesday night and vote.

Behind the benign civics lesson from the city -- a day before the first presidential debate at the University of Denver -- was a lot of pre-showdown maneuvering from the Mitt Romney and Barack Obama camps:


Romney surrorgate John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor, was asked on a briefing call with reporters if indeed this is a make-or-break debate.

He wisecracked, "Based on the expectation game, I expect both candidates to vanish before our eyes."

Romney has the most at stake on Wednesday -- by now that is massive conventional wisdom -- which his team has not been able to much dispute.

Romney's Republican convention was supposed to be his second chance to make a first impression. Romney gets another crack at it at this debate.

The discussion will likely touch on taxes, job creation, the housing crisis, health care, Romney's tenure at Bain -- and his "47 percent" remark. I hope Romney and Obama are pressed about how they can get Washington to work -- especially since the post-partisan era Obama sort of promised in 2008 never materialized.

"Honestly, what I think you're going to see tomorrow night is Governor Romney-- agreat deal of America has never seen Governor Romney except in news clips, and news clips selected by the news medium that's presenting them. And that's not always the best way to see who someone is," Sununu said.

"So I think tomorrow night is an opportunity for America to take a look at Governor Romney standing side by side with President Obama and make a choice as to which one of these individuals really has a history of understanding the impact problems have on people, having lived a life of service to people and being capable of solving major problems," Sununu said.


Vice President Joe Biden, stumping in battleground North Carolina, stepped on the campaign message on Tuesday when he said -- blasting Romney and running mate Paul Ryan's tax plans -- that the middle class has been "buried" for four years.

That's all it takes to get in trouble. One word in an otherwise passionate argument that frames the Obama strategy: the election is not a referendum on what Obama has done these past years as much as it is about who will do better in the future, Obama or Romney.

Here's what Biden said about Romney and Ryan: "How they can justify -- how they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that's been buried the last four years, how in Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?

"And look, folks. We've seen this movie before, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, eliminating restrictions on Wall Street, let the banks write their own rules. We know where it ends. It ends in the catastrophe of the middle class and the Great Recession of 2008.

Ryan, campaigning in battleground Iowa, pounced on Biden's buried remark. And I wouldn't be surprised if we hear about it at the Denver debate -- or when Ryan and Biden debate Oct . 11 in Kentucky. The Romney team has been looking for ways to try to dilute Romney's "47 percent" remarks, and the Biden blooper gives the Romney/ Ryan team a chance to pitch themselves as better for middle-class folks, despite Romney seemingly writing off 47 percent of voters in that secretly recorded videotape.

Said Ryan, "Unemployment has been above 8 percent for 43 months. Our economy is limping along right now. Vice President Biden just today said that the middle class over the last four years has been, quote, buried. We agree. That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next president of the United States.

"Of course the middle class has been buried. They're being buried by regulations. They're being buried by taxes. They're being buried by borrowing. They're being buried by the Obama administration's economic failures."


Wednesday is the Obamas' 20th anniversary. She told CNN's Jessica Yellin she tries not to show any emotion at debates.

"I get so nervous at these debates," Mrs. Obama told Yellin. "I'm like one of those parents watching their kid on the balance beam. You're just standing there trying not to, you know, have any expression at all."

DENVER, COL.--The Now or Never PAC has become a major player in bolstering Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in his battle against Democratic hopeful Tammy Duckworth in the Illinois 8th Congressional District, so far spending so more than $1.3 million on his behalf.

A Federal Election Commission Tuesday filing showed the latest boost for Walsh: a $405,150 Now or Never media buy to run ads against Duckworth on Chicago television.

The Duckworth campaign is trying to keep the Now or Never spot off the air. Sun-Times political reporter Natasha Korecki has been tracking the dispute with the latest HERE.

The PAC has now invested more than $1.3 million in the north suburban 8th congressional district contest, according to FEC records

Sept. 18: $810,150 for media advertising to support Walsh
Sept. 21: 15,000 for media advertising opposing Duckworth
Sept. 21: 17,500 for media advertising support Walsh
Sept. 25: 74,670 for advertising by mail to support Walsh
Oct. 2: 405,150 for media advertising to oppose Duckworth

DENVER, COL.--The Now or Never PAC--bolstering Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) in his battle against Democratic hopeful Tammy Duckworth in the Illinois 8th Congressional District--made, according to the Federal Election Commission records, a $405,150 media buy to run attack Duckworth on Chicago television.

The Duckworth campaign is trying to keep the Now or Never spot off the air. Sun-Times political reporter Natasha Korecki has been tracking the dispute with the latest HERE.

DCCC spot hitting Biggert

DCCC spot hitting Dold

WASHINGTON--The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Tuesday started running cable ads attacking two Chicago area Republican incumbents--Rep. Judy Biggert and Rep. Bob Dold--with the spots jumping to broadcast outlets on Oct. 23, I've been told.

The buy is part of the DCCC--the political operation for House Democrats--independent expenditure effort to elect Democrats Brad Schneider in the 10th congressional district and Bill Foster in the 11th c.d.

The DCCC has set aside $3 million for the Chicago market--and now they are starting to spend it. The ad targeting Biggert, running against Foster, is the start of a $65,000 weekly buy; the spot dealing with Dold is on a $65,000 weekly buy.

Millions of dollars has already been spent in Super Pac and independent expenditures in Illinois House races and more money will be sent to Illinois in the coming weeks as the parties battle for control of Congress.

In the past two weeks, the, National Republican Congressional Committee--the GOP House political shop, the DCCC counterpart--has been kicking in significant money against Schneider.

On Sept, 21, according to Federal Election Commission records, the NRCC spent $294,246 for media. Last Friday-- on Sept. 28--the NRCC added $10,650 for media and two expenditures for surveys--$17,000 and $18,500. The same day, according to FEC records the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also made an $550,000 media buy against Schneider.

Also on Sept. 21, the NRCC spent $266,040 for media hitting Foster.

The GOP House political shop has also set aside several million for other Illinois House races.

The Dold spot is aiming at Democratic cross-over voters in a North Shore district redrawn last year by Illinois Democrats to be more Democratic.

From the DCCC: "The ad highlights how by voting party line to essentially end Medicare and let insurance companies charge women higher premiums for their health care, Congressman Dold isn't independent. He's just being a Republican."

The Biggert spot is trying to weaken her with female and senior voters in a district that was also redrawn to have a Democratic advantage.

From the DCCC on the first spot they are running against Biggert: The spot" highlights how Congresswoman Biggert voted to give herself nine pay raises, but supported ending the Medicare guarantee and making seniors pay more for their health care.


"It is obvious that the DCCC is trying to launch false and negative attack ads against Bob Dold and Judy Biggert because they recognize what a failure their own recruitment process was for those seats. They are stuck with partisan and phony businessman Brad Schneider and failed politician Bill Foster who was already fired by voters in 2010. It isn't shocking that the DCCC would distort the facts. The reality of their candidates is pretty terrifying." - NRCC Spokeswoman Katie Prill

WASHINGTON--Mitt Romney tries to shake off his stiff image doing some improv exercises before his first debate with President Barack Obama Wednesday in Denver--in the lampoon video out Tuesday morning by Funny or Die.

The video was co-written and directed by Amy Rice, the co-director, with Alicia Sams, of the 2009 documentary, "By the People: The Election of Barack Obama."

WASHINGTON--The Republican National Committee is reviving Tuesday clips from President Barack Obama's 2000 Democratic House primary contest--his main rival was Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.)--who beat him--in advance of the first presidential debate Wednesday in Denver. The session was on WTTW-channel 11.

Transcript from the RNC: Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL): Obama "Knocked His Predecessor ... Off The Ballot" When He Ran For The State Senate.
OBAMA: "Let me respond to your initial question, the issue of Congressman's Rush perceived weakness, which I saw on the tape as well. I actually thought Congressman Rush did a good thing running against the Mayor, because I don't think anybody should have a pass. I don't think Congressman Rush in this instance should have a pass. I don't think the Mayor should have a pass. I don't get a pass for my State Senate seat. What I was concerned about in the race was the inability, I think, to focus attention on the issues that really matter in this city. And part of what's important about this historic district - " Q: "You mean candidate Rush did not focus on it?" OBAMA: "Candidate Rush. And so, but the reason I say that is to give credit where credit is due. I think that Congressman Rush did a brave thing running and I don't want it perceived that somehow he's being punished for that race. I think what's important is that we have a chance now to raise expectations of voters in terms of what the Congressman can accomplish in this district." RUSH: "I certainly disagree with the Senator, Senator Obama. He did get a pass in his first effort out, in terms of running for the Senate. He and others knocked his predecessor Senator Alice Palmer off the ballot. So, he got a free pass on his first time around." ( 2000 Congressional Debate, Chicago, IL, 3/13/00)

WASHINGTON--Michael Kornick, the chef at Chicago's MK Restaurant helms a cooking demonstration and lunch at his restaurant, 868 N. Franklin, for an Obama fund-raiser on Oct. 6. Joining Kornick at the $250-per-person event will be Betsy Hoover, the Obama campaign director of digital organizing.

Hosts for the event are Lisa and Michael Kornick; Bruce Cohen; Dania Leemputte; Molly Mahoney and Andrea Solow.

WASHINGTON----Yo-Yo Ma headlines an Obama fund-raiser in Chicago on Oct. 15, performing at a concert at the Gold Coast home of Susan Berghoef with tickets $5,000 per-person; $10,000 to be an event host.

Ma will be in Chicago for an Oct. 13 performance at Orchestra Hall; the show is the "Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma."

WASHINGTON--Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein headlines a fund-raiser on Oct. 17 in Chicago to benefit the Obama campaign, with the other draw David Simas, the Obama campaign director of opinion research. The evening reception is at the home of Barbara Goodman Manilow. The tab is $1,000 to guest, $5,000 to host.

Manilow is a member of Chicago's Crown family; cousin Susan Crown is a major fund-raiser for Mitt Romney. Manilow is an executive at the Ida and Arie Crown Foundation. Her former husband, David Manilow, is the founder and producer of the show "Check Please."

Epstein is no novice to political giving; while in Boston working for the Red Sox he donated $1,000 to the Obama campaign in January, 2008. Cubs honcho Laura Ricketts is a major Obama fund-raiser.

WASHINGTON--Former President Bill Clinton hits Chicago on Oct. 23 for a $10,000-per-person fund-raiser to benefit the Obama re-election campaign. The lunch is at Gibson's Bar & Steakhouse. While many high end Chicago donors are tapped out--First Lady Michelle Obama was in Chicago last week for two mega-donor events--Bill Clinton appeals to a segment of Chicago area major Democratic donors--read that folks who backed Hillary Rodham Clinton for president in 2008--who will write big checks to hang out with Bill.


WASHINGTON--Vice Presidential hopeful Paul Ryan is rescheduling a mega-fund-raiser--billed as his final one in Chicago-- to Oct. 7, a reception and brunch between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., switching the venue to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Rosemont.

According to a Romney fund-raiser, the date--first set for Oct. 5 at the Palmer House--was changed because of Ryan's schedule--and the place--originally the Palmer House--was switched because the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is Sunday, which makes getting around the Loop a mess.

The mega fund-raiser is still being marketed to yield, at the highest end, $151,600 per couple.

Since last week, Chicago businessman Robert Asher has been added to the co-host, joining Chicago and Illinois figures on Mitt Rommey's national finance team--including Ken and Ann Griffin, Susan Crown, Ron Gidwitz and Muneer Satter.

Recapping the perks from my post last week...

One of the perks offered major donors is an invite to a "retreat" in New York--which will include face time with major Romney campaign figures.

Here are the price and perk breakdowns:

The October 7 brunch for two, photo-op and general reception, and all Romney Victory Founding Partner Benefits, including invitation for two to attend NY Fall Retreat.... ($75,800 per person/$151,600 per couple).

The October 7 brunch for two, photo-op and general reception, all Romney Victory Member Benefits, including invitation for two to the NY Fall Retreat. ...($50,000 per person/$100,000 per couple).

The October 7 photo-op and general reception...($25,000 per person/$50,000 per couple).

The October 7 reception with Photo-Opportunity and General Reception...($10,000 per person/$20,000 per couple).

The October 7 General Reception...($2,500 per person).

Co-chairs and other top hosts below...updated list as of Sept. 18


(AS OF 9-18-12)

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama set up debate camp at a Westin resort hotel in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, a pocket of Nevada his campaign gauges can yield more Democratic votes by his presence there for a few days before the Denver debate on Wednesday.

The Romney campaign, in a counter move, is sending Ann Romney to Henderson on Monday afternoon for a rally at the Henderson Convention Center.

Meanwhile, Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan stumps in Iowa while Mitt Romney on Monday arrives in Denver where he headlines a rally Monday night, taking a break from debate prep.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are spending Monday prepping for their first debate Wednesday, except that, as the president's team likes to point out, he still has his day job as president. Obama has been so busy he hasn't been able to practice as much as anticipated, spokesman Jen Psaki said Sunday.

That's an example of lowering expectations.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- in an unusual move -- on Sunday raised expectations for Romney in the Denver debate, claiming that Romney will do so well against Obama that he will be able to "restart" his lagging campaign.

Christie, a top surrogate for Romney, was asked by David Gregory, host of NBC's "Meet the Press." "is the race over?"

Replied Christie, "absolutely not," coming back with a strong rejoinder, parked between two difficult places: Say the unthinkable and agree that Romney may not catch up with Obama -- ahead in battleground state polls -- or come up with a reason the contest is not over.

Election fortunes can change swiftly, Christie said.

"And I think the beginning of that is Wednesday night when Gov. Romney for the first time gets on the same stage with the president of the United States and people can make a direct comparison about them and their visions for the future," Christie said.

"And Wednesday night's the restart of this campaign. And I think you're going to see those numbers start to move right back in the other direction. . . . You're going to have tens of millions of people for the very first time, David, really tuning in and paying attention to this race. And also, for the first time, you're going to have them be able to make a direct, side-by-side comparison."

Well, not 100 percent paying attention, because the Obama team, trying to think of everything, is factoring in the element that people will be eating and drinking during the debate, though it doesn't seem like they are expecting wild parties as the rivals discuss domestic policy.

"This will be a very large audience," Psaki said. "He wants to speak directly to the families -- the people who are on their couches at home, having snacks, drinking a beer, drinking soda, whatever it is, and tuning in for the first time -- and that's who he's speaking directly to."

Psaki, downplaying the impact of the debate -- the first of three -- pegged it as just another event on the march to Election Day.

She said Obama sees the debate "as an opportunity to continue his conversation with the American people as he has been doing over the last several months, including at the convention, which was probably our largest audience to date."

Obama flew from Washington to battleground Nevada on Sunday to set up a debate camp at the Westin Lake Las Vegas resort in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb.

Romney flies from Boston to Denver today -- with each contender leveraging the prep time by spending it in a battleground state.

The uphill climb for Romney got steeper on Sunday, when an Associated Press analysis found in its snapshot of the race that Obama is on a path to win at least 271 electoral votes to 206 for Romney.

It takes 270 to clinch the White House and shows that the road for Romney has grown narrower: in order to beat Obama, Romney will have to win battlegrounds Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Virginia and either Ohio or Iowa.

I noted in my Sunday column about the upcoming debate that Obama's main problem isn't Romney as much as his own verbosity, since the last time anyone had the nerve to cut off his long-winded riffs was in the October 2008 third and final debate with GOP nominee Sen. John McCain.

Psaki took note of this potential problem and Sunday said they were working on it.

Obama "has a tendency to give longer, substantive answers. It's just his nature. That's something clearly we're working on," she said.

Unlike Christie, who was off message on the debates, vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan was sticking to the script talking to Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday."

Shrugging off the debate impact, Ryan said, "I don't think one event is going to make or break this campaign."

WASHINGTON--Discussing the Wednesday debate, Romney advisors Ed Gillespie and Kevin Madden said Monday Mitt Romney is "prepared" to answer about that secretly recorded videotape where he seemingly disparages47 percent of the voters at a Florida fund-raiser--but his main theme is "we can't afford another four years" of President Obama.

Madden told reporters the theme "we can't afford another four years like the last four years" will be stressed over the next few week and weaved into the debates and messages aimed a the all-important battleground states.

As for that video, which has damaged Romney, "the governor is prepared to answer that" in the Wednesday night Denver debate.

Presidential debate schedule

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The first presidential debate starts at 8 p.m. Chicago time on Wednesday and will be televised on broadcast and cable networks--livestreamed and social media-ized. So take your pick on how you want to see it. For your planning, here are the dates and places of the match-ups:

First presidential debate:

Wednesday, October 3
University of Denver, Denver, CO
Domestic issues

Vice presidential debate:
Thursday, October 11
Centre College, Danville, KY
Domestic and foreign issues

Second presidential debate (town meeting format):

Tuesday, October 16
Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY

Third presidential debate:
Monday, October 22
Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL
Foreign issues

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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