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31 days to the fiscal cliff

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Good morning... 31 days to the fiscal cliff....for my look at the events that will drive the fiscal cliff stories on Friday, click over to my post at the Sun-Times political blog HERE.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- A few days after President Barack Obama won the election, his campaign manager, Jim Messina, contacted Matt Rhoades (who ran Mitt Romney's campaign) to arrange a meeting between the two men.

The result of the outreach -- which Messina confirmed he made when I asked him on Thursday -- was that Romney arrived at the White House on Thursday to lunch with Obama. He visited with Obama in the Oval Office--which a few weeks ago he though he would occupy on Jan. 21, Inauguration Day.

Over white turkey chili and Southwest grilled chicken, the two dined in the private dining room adjacent to the Oval Office, in ae.colunch lasting about an hour. Romney congratulated Obama on his win "and wished him well over the coming four years," the White House said in a statement.

Obama had mentioned in his election night victory speech that he wanted to get together with Romney and brought it up again at a Nov. 14 press conference.

"He presented some ideas during the course of the campaign that I actually agree with. And so it'd be interesting to talk to him about something like that," Obama said then.

As for the lunch conversation, "the focus of their discussion was on America's leadership in the world and the importance maintaining that leadership position in the future. They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future," the White House said in a statement.

Romney flew in from his California home. While in Washington, he also met with his former running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). It was the first time they have been together since election night in Boston.

I've been talking to a variety of people in the Romney orbit -- some at a conference I am attending at Harvard's Institute of Politics, looking at the 2012 campaign -- plus others to gain some insight into what Romney may do.

Romney told his staff after he lost his second run for president that he would not seek public office again. Eric Fehrnstrom, who was Romney's campaign spokesman, told me Thursday, "I'd be surprised if he didn't stay involved in public service in some way."

Something may be in the works. Fehrnstrom said he "expected some announcement about his future plans after the first of the year."

Romney, who has a residence outside Boston, is setting up an office in Solamere Capital, the Boston firm founded by son Tagg and Spencer Zwick, Romney's national campaign finance chairman.

Romney has told his major donors that he wants to keep his network together. Romney's fund-raising ability could be enormously helpful to future candidates. He rejoined the Marriott board after his 2008 run; it's not known yet, his associates told me, if he is ready to get back in the business world.

What is clear, I am told, is that Romney, a youthful 65, is not anywhere close to retiring.

"He is a very resilient person who gets bored very quickly," an associate said.

While some Republicans are already focused on 2014 and 2016, feeling bruised by Romney's defeat, John Brabender, who was the senior strategist for Rick Santorum's presidential campaign, told me that Romney "can step into a lot of roles."

"He is seen as a little bit less political and ideologically driven as some political figures; therefore, I think that makes that transition a little bit easier.

"Certainly there have been criticisms about him and the campaign, but truthfully, I think those are frustrations. I don't think they are valid, I think they will go away."

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.--President Barack Obama and former rival Mitt Romney lunched Thursday at the White House--the first time they saw each other since the election. The White House released a few details:

"This afternoon, President Obama and Governor Romney visited for an hour over lunch in the Private Dining Room adjacent to the Oval Office. Governor Romney congratulated the President for the success of his campaign and wished him well over the coming four years. The focus of their discussion was on America's leadership in the world and the importance of maintaining that leadership position in the future. They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise in the future. Their lunch menu included white turkey chili and Southwestern grilled chicken salad."

32 Days to the fiscal cliff

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Click over to the Sun-Times political blog for a new daily feature by Sun-Times Washington Bureau Chief Lynn Sweet, "Fiscal Cliff Notes," a look at the top story lines developing for the day in the countdown to the fiscal cliff.

Sen. Dick Durbin delivered some tough love Tuesday to his fellow progressive Democrats in a speech on the "fiscal cliff."

His message: Be ready to compromise -- or be left out of the conversation while others make decisions about the priorities you care about the most, such as preventing the middle class from carrying an unfair tax burden.

Durbin's speech, at the Center for American Progress -- a progressive think tank -- comes as President Barack Obama and House and Senate GOP and Democratic leaders are confronting a Dec. 31 deadline to avoid a "fiscal cliff" kicking in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts.

Activists on the left and right -- and a host of special interest groups -- are jockeying to protect programs or tax breaks.

Within the progressive community, Democrats see this as a battle between ordinary people and the super rich. They do not want to solve the nation's fiscal woes on the backs of the massive safety net programs -- mainly Medicare and Medicaid.

Obama is adamant about the next step: putting money on the table, by not extending tax breaks set to expire at the end of the year for earners over $250,000.

Durbin invoked the name of two late Illinois Democratic senators -- Paul Douglas and Paul Simon, fiscal realists who proudly wore the liberal label -- in making the case for progressives taking some bitter pills.

"So there is a strain, at least in Illinois progressive politics, of conservatism and fiscal sanity when it comes to spending issues," Durbin said.

Durbin is a key player in the fiscal cliff negotiations. He is the No. 2 leader in the Senate, but more important in this context, he was a member of the Simpson-Bowles Commission and part of the bipartisan Senate "Gang of Eight" wrestling with deficit reduction for some two years.

A quick reminder on Simpson-Bowles: That's the 18-member panel Obama created to figure out future spending, tax and deficit policy. A report by the group on Dec. 3, 2010, failed to win the 14 votes needed for a final endorsement -- though many in fiscal circles thought the pain was spread around.

There were schisms on both sides of the aisle; progressives -- such as Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who was also part of the panel -- were not convinced the social safety net programs were protected.

Two strong progressives split on this one: Durbin voted for, Schakowsky against Simpson-Bowles.

Now, almost two years later, Congress and the White House are at a fiscal brink, with a self-imposed deadline backed by draconian actions no one wants.

"Progressives cannot afford to stand on the sidelines in this fiscal cliff debate and to deny the obvious," Durbin said.

"Important critical decisions will be made soon that will affect this country for 10 years. I think we need to be part of this conversation, which means we need to be open to some topics and some issues that are painful and hard for us to talk about.

"We have to look to reform and change that is significant, that preserves many of the values and programs that brought us to political life, and we cannot believe that merely ignoring these programs or not engaging is going to solve a problem."

Durbin said he was asked by progressive friends why he was bothering to talk taxes and spending with conservative GOP senators who are "up to no good."

Replied Durbin, "being seated at the table, which do you think is a better place to be?"

President Barack Obama and former GOP rival Mitt Romney will see each other for the first time since the election on Thursday. The White House announced on Wednesday morning they will lunch together in the White House Private Dining Room. "There will be no press coverage of the meeting," the White House said, though it is a good bet there will be official photos released of the event.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

CHICAGO--South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who lost his re-election bid, discuss the 2012 election and the road forward at a Heritage Foundation event at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago on Tuesday. Heritage is a Washington based conservative think-tank.

Click below for more details...


First Lady Michelle Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha receive 2012 White House Christmas tree on Friday.
(White House photo)

More details and pictures--including Bo--are over at Obama Foodorama HERE.

It looks like former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), who resigned Wednesday, is trying to take any potential heat off of his wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th) -- who is also his campaign manager.

I'm told that Sandi Jackson has hired her own legal representation as her husband's lawyers try to work out a deal in the ongoing federal probe of his campaign finances.

It doesn't take too much reading between the lines of Jackson's resignation letter -- unusually poignant -- that he is telling the feds to blame him -- and leave his wife out of it. In the letter, sent Wednesday to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Jackson acknowledged the probe for the first time, said he is cooperating with "the investigators, and accept responsibility for my mistakes, for they are my mistakes and mine alone."

It's prudent for Sandi Jackson to have her own lawyer. She is under the microscope herself as federal agents are digging into Jackson campaign spending.

According to campaign finance disclosures, Sandi Jackson has been drawing $5,000-a-month payments from her husband's main campaign fund through her firm, J. Donnatella and Associates. Her company has been on the Jackson campaign payroll for years, and it is located, according to FEC records, in the couples' Washington red-brick rowhouse off DuPont Circle. Sandi Jackson was deeply involved in the South Side and south suburban political operation the couple put together -- run for a time from the basement of their Chicago home.

Former Rep. Jackson hired three high-powered lawyers to represent him -- Reid H. Weingarten and Brian M. Heberlig, partners in the Washington office of Steptoe & Johnson, and former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb, a Winston & Strawn partner in Chicago. I confirmed Friday that this team only represents the former congressman.

More details:

The Jackson crisis managers

Jackson's legal team hired Washington's premier crisis management firm -- Smith & Company -- to help Jackson navigate through his troubled waters. The principles are Judy Smith and Christopher Garrett.

Smith hit the news, again, in recent days when Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite who figures in the former CIA Director David Petraeus sex scandal, retained Smith to represent her. The ABC show "Scandal" leading character, Olivia Pope, is based on Smith, a co-executive producer of the series.

"When you get into trouble -- life-ruining, headline-making trouble -- there's only one person to call ... Olivia Pope," says a tout for the show on its website.

Kelley -- a friend of Petraeus and his wife, Holly -- unwittingly set in motion the chain of events that led to the revelation that Petraeus was having an affair with Paula Broadwell, who co-wrote his biography. (Kelley went to the FBI after she received anonymous threatening e-mails, which the FBI traced to Broadwell.)

Kelley's hiring of Smith triggered a New York Times Nov. 16 story on Smith headlined "Another Client for Ms. Fix-It." The Washington Post on Nov. 22 featured Smith and other lawyers and media managers as the "power players" in the Petraeus saga.

Smith shot to fame herself when she represented Monica Lewinsky during the investigation of former President Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment. Smith also has repped other scandalized figures, including former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and NFL player Michael Vick.

The Jackson lawyers

Besides battling bipolar disorder and depression since June, when Jackson disappeared, surfacing later at the Mayo Clinic, and the feds probing campaign spending, Jackson had hanging over him the continuing House Committee on Ethics investigation stemming from the Rod Blagojevich scandal.

Weingarten and Heberlig have been representing Jackson in that years-long House probe where the now-imprisoned former Illinois governor tried to "sell" the appointment to the Illinois Senate seat Barack Obama vacated when he was elected president.

Weingarten and Heberlig know the Jackson backstory.

They argued -- in an 18-page letter sent Nov. 15, 2011, to the House Ethics Committee -- that Jackson never violated any House rules, denying he tried to raise campaign cash for Blagojevich in exchange for the appointment, or improperly used House staffers to help him lobby for the Senate seat.

Jackson's resignation means the committee has no power over him anymore -- but it is not yet clear if the panel will issue a final report of its investigative conclusions.

Webb is a heavy in Chicago and Washington -- a litigator who specializes in white-collar criminal and political corruption defense. The legal team said Wednesday in a statement it could take "several months" of negotiations with the prosecutorial team before Jackson's status is resolved.

Jackson's staffers stay on

Gov. Pat Quinn will be setting dates for a primary and general election to pick a new Second District of Illinois congressman. Until a new lawmaker is sworn-in, Jackson's Washington and district staffers stay on the House payroll to provide constituent casework assistance and other services.

They will be supervised by the clerk of the House; under House rules, the clerk manages offices when a seat is vacated, whether by -- and this is common -- resignation or death -- or the rare case of expulsion.

WASHINGTON -- The House office suite here of now-former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is a monument to his better days, what was and what might have been.

Jackson quit Congress on Wednesday, battling health issues and a federal criminal probe centered on his campaign funds. He hasn't been to his Rayburn Building office since he vanished in June, eventually landing in Mayo Clinic to treat his bipolar depression.

His desk is frozen as he left it -- with two computers and, under the glass, a Chicago Sun-Times front page from May 22, 2007, featuring the swearing-in of his wife, Sandi, as a Chicago alderman as Jackson and their two kids looked on. A deer with antlers he bagged is mounted on a wall, along with photos from the hunt of Jackson kneeling proudly with his kill.

There is a framed Sports Illustrated spread of Jackson holding a football, ready to leap, seemingly, over the Capitol Dome, and a picture of him and Mother Teresa.

He's shaking hands with Al Gore in one picture, smiling with Stevie Wonder and Dolly Parton in another.

The most telling for me is Jackson standing behind Nelson and Winnie Mandela -- his arm stretched and his fist clenched with them in a salute. The very day the great South African leader was released from prison near Cape Town in 1990, Jackson somehow got in the picture. He was there, of course, because of his father, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

Jackson's blessing and curse is to be the namesake son of a famous self-made man. I always sensed his agaony was that he could never get out of the shadow of his father. Part of that he brought on himself, by going into the family business: politics. In Congress, he landed a plum assignment on the Appropriations Committee as a hat tip to his dad.

He was a hard worker, a consistent progressive vote with some obsessions. A minor one was getting to the State of the Union speech each year hours early so he could get an aisle seat visible on TV as he jumped out to greet the president. Jackson was consumed with building an airport at Peotone.

I remember our first interview after he came to Congress in 1995. We talked about his growing up. I was struck that almost every job he had was because he was his father's son.

My sense is he was very pained during Barack Obama's first presidential run. He was a co-chair, but the campaign did not make him a high-profile surrogate.

Though Jackson resigned on Wednesday, he has been sidelined and muzzled since Dec. 9, 2008 -- when then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested.

Jackson, who was angling for Blagojevich to appoint him to the Senate spot Obama had held, was implicated in the Blagojevich scheme to "sell" the seat. That cloud never lifted.

Besides sending his resignation letter to House GOP and Democratic leadership, Jackson copied it only to: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who has known him since he was a kid through his dad; the present and incoming Congressional Black Caucus chairs, and colleagues Danny Davis and Bobby Rush, the other African Americans in the Illinois delegation, who have always given Jackson the benefit of the doubt.

There's one other picture on Jackson's office wall that caught my attention. Jackson and his father bracket former President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Wrote Bush, "Good luck in your exciting life ahead."

It was for awhile. But not for now.

WASHINGTON--Lawyers for Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) who resigned Wednesday amidst an ongoing federal probe said negotiations for a "fair resolution" could take several months.

Reid H. Weingarten and Brian M. Heberlig, partners in the Washington, DC office of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, and Dan K. Webb, partner in the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn, LLP, attorneys for Jesse Jackson, Jr. said in a statement, "Mr. Jackson is cooperating with the investigation. We hope to negotiate a fair resolution of the matter but the process could take several months. During that time, we will have no further comment and urge you to give Mr. Jackson the privacy he needs to heal and handle these issues responsibly."

Resig Letter

WASHINGTON--Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) resigned on Wednesday, asking people to remember what he did right--and saying any mistakes he made are "mine alone."

Jackson said he resigned, effective Wednesday "in order to focus on restoring my health." In Congress for 17 years, Jackson said "During this journey I have made my share of mistakes. I am aware of the ongoing federal investigation into my activities. and I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators and accept responsibility for my mistakes, for they are mistakes and mine alone. None of us is immune from our share of shortcomings or human frailities and I pray that I will be remembered for what I did right.

"It has been a profound honor to serve the constitutients of Illinois' Second District and I thank them for their patience, words of support and prayers during what has been and what will continue to be a very trying time for me and my family.

"..With optimism and hope I look forward to the day when my treatment is complete and my health improves."

WASHINGTON--Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) resigned on Wednesday, citing health reasons in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner--where he also acknowledges, for the first time, the federal probe he is facing. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) talked Wednesday to Jackson and his father, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

Jackson said he resigned, effective Wednesday "in order to focus on restoring my health." In Congress for 17 years, Jackson said "During this journey I have made my share of mistakes. I am aware of the ongoing federal investigation into my activities. and I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators and accept responsibility for my mistakes, for they are mistakes and mine alone. None of us is immune from our share of shortcomings or human frailities and I pray that I will be remembered for what I did right.

"It has been a profound honor to serve the constitutients of Illinois' Second District and I thank them for their patience, words of support and prayers during what has been and what will continue to be a very trying time for me and my family.

"..With optimism and hope I look forward to the day when my treatment is complete and my health improves."

Pelosi said in a statement, "It is with great sadness that we learned of Congressman Jackson's decision to
submit his resignation. His service in Congress was marked by his eloquent
advocacy for his constituents' views and interests.

"Through his public statements and his writings, he presented a fresh
perspective on how we work together to form a more perfect union.

"As he works to address his health, our thoughts and prayers are with him, his
wife Sandi, his children as well as his parents. We are grateful to him and his
family for their longstanding record of public service to our country."

jesse jackson desk.jpeg
Rep. Jesse Jackson's desk in the House Rayburn Office Building
(photo by Lynn Sweet)


WASHINGTON--Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.) will resign his seat, a family member is confirming, with a letter sent to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday. Jackson--absent from Congress since June--being treated for bi-polar depression--is also the subject of a federal criminal probe over the spending of campaign fund money

Sun-Times full coverage is HERE.

WASHINGTON--Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)--absent from Congress since June, current whereabouts unknown while being treated for bi-polar disorder with a criminal investigation hanging over him--planned, then canceled--a conference call with his staff on Wednesday.

"I was informed the congressman was going to have a conference call with the staff at 10 a.m. (est)," on Wednesday Jackson spokesman Frank Watkins told the Chicago Sun-Times Tuesday night. A few hours after Watkins was told about it--the call was off, he said.

The Sun-Times story is >HERE.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's team is starting to organize his second inaugural--likely to be more modest than the first, I'm told.

The executive director of the Obama 2013 "PIC," the presidential inaugural committee will be--unless there is a last minute switch--Stephen Kerrigan, who was the Chief Executive Officer of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Kerrigan was the chief of staff for Obama's 2009 inauguration.

The finance director for the 2013 "PIC" will be Elizabeth Lowery, who was the deputy director of finance for the Obama 2012 campaign.

To be decided: will the Obama 2013 "PIC" take contributions from corporations or political action committees and reverse its self-imposed 2008 ban?

On Nov. 25, 2008, the Obama team announced: "The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) announced today that it will abide by an unprecedented set of limitations on fundraising as part of President-elect Obama's pledge to put the country on a new path. Unlike previous inaugural committees, the PIC will not accept contributions from corporations, political action committees, current federally-registered lobbyists, non-U.S. citizens and registered foreign agents. The PIC will not accept individual contributions in excess of $50,000. Current law does not restrict the size of donations. In past inaugurations, contribution limits have run as high as $250,000."

Three committees run inaugural activities:

1. The Armed Forces Inaugural Committee coordinates all military organizations involved in the ceremonies.

2. The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), a panel headed by House/Senate leadership, runs events at the Capitol, where the swearing-in takes place.

3. The Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) funds and organizes a variety of festive events associated with the inaugural; concerts, balls, etc.

WASHINGTON--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is enroute to Israel, the West Bank and Egypt to see if she can broker a deal to broker a truce to avoid Israeli ground troops from rolling to Gaza in the wake of Hamas rocket attacks. Mrs. Clinton will go to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo, departing from Phonm Penh, Cambodia where she has been with President Barack Obama for an East Asia conference.

She will start her trip in Israel, according to Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes, who briefed reporters in Cambodia.

Said Rhodes, Mrs. Clinton will "meet with regional leaders, beginning with our Israeli partners, to consult on the situation in Gaza.

"Her visits will build on the engagement that we've undertaken over the last several days, including the engagement by President Obama and Secretary Clinton with leaders in the region to support a de-escalation of the violence and a durable outcome that ends the rocket attacks on Israeli cities and restores a broader calm in the region. Again, as President Obama noted in his conversation with President Morsi, we commend Egypt's efforts to de-escalate the situation, and are hopeful that they will be successful.

"On her trip, Secretary Clinton will emphasize the United States' interest in a peaceful outcome that protects and enhances Israel's security and regional stability -- an outcome that can lead to improved conditions for the civilian residents of Gaza, and that could reopen the path to fulfill the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis for two states living side by side in peace and security. And, of course, she will continue to express our concern about the loss of civilian life on both sides."

WASHINGTON -- My bet is President Barack Obama and GOP and Democratic congressional leaders do not make a final deal by year end to avoid the "fiscal cliff" -- the negotiations will spill over a few months.

Even if the Dec. 31 deadline passes without a tax, spending and deficit package in place, the overall impact would not hit the economy immediately. Consider the effect more a "fiscal slope," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told me. One potential scenario: A stopgap measure could emerge to buy some more time.

Obama met with the four top House and Senate leaders on Friday -- and the public statements after the meeting were optimistic about striking a deal to boost federal revenue and cut spending by Jan. 1, when drastic automatic tax hikes and reductions no one wants will take place.

However, in precincts I checked with, there is the recognition that there just may not be enough time to rewrite the tax code and wrestle with soaring Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security obligations -- called entitlements -- before Dec. 31.

Congress left for Thanksgiving on Friday. The lame duck session resumes in December. Obama left Saturday for a four-day swing through Thailand, Burma and Cambodia. He arrives in Bangkok on Sunday

Staff negotiators from the White House and Congress will keep on working as time is running short. And while there are some solutions "on the shelf" -- I'm thinking here of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations -- the GOP House members have a new dynamic: What Obama wants most -- and first -- is for Congress to pass a law to prevent tax rates for most people automatically increasing Jan. 1.

Obama underscored that again in his Saturday address where he kept pressure on Congress "to pass a law right away to prevent a tax hike on the first $250,000 of anyone's income. That means all Americans -- including the wealthiest Americans -- get a tax cut. And 98 percent of Americans, and 97 percent of all small business owners, won't see their income taxes go up a single dime."

"The cliff was designed by Democrats and Republicans to be terrible, and it is. So let's avoid it," said Durbin, who will be a key negotiator.

After Congress returns next month, with only about three weeks to work in December, Durbin said, "it is a limited opportunity. We go into the first of the year and that means the new members will face it." The new Congress gets sworn-in on Jan. 3.

And what is the impact if there is not a deal? No cuts happen immediately.

"It's not a cliff, it's a steep slope. We don't want to start down it, you know, because it really could kill the recovery and impose taxes on working families, which the president doesn't want, I don't want it. But it is going to force our hands to do something," Durbin said.

If the wrangling "goes into a month or two of the new year, we can do it," Durbin told me.

An aide to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- passing along information on background -- also suggested this won't be done by Dec. 31. It doesn't take too much reading between the lines to see Boehner expects negotiations spilling over to next year.

"The Speaker said he believes 2013 should be the year we begin to solve our debt problem through tax reform and entitlement reform, and proposed that both parties work together to avert the fiscal cliff together in a manner that ensures 2013 is that year. He proposed that both parties commit to working toward a framework for tax and entitlement reform in 2013 that sets revenue and spending levels. This is a construct all present agreed was needed," the aide said.

Here are my predictions -- based on my reporting -- about what will happen:

† There won't be a deal covering everything by Dec. 31; instead there will be in essence a vote in Congress about a deal to make a deal -- with substantive savings identified in a "framework" measure Congress would vote on. Congress would vote to sideline the draconian cuts and prevent tax rates from increasing for most of us -- which would keep the markets from being rattled.

† Since Obama will not budge over not extending the expiring Bush-era tax hikes for the 2 percent who are wealthy, key to this stop-gap scenario could well be this: Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will each contribute to a "structured" roll call on a compromise. There are Democrats who under no circumstances want entitlement cuts; there are Republicans who will go to the mat over preserving tax breaks for folks who make more than $250,000 a year. Boehner and Pelosi will have to contribute members who can take the heat on this vote to make it a bipartisan roll call.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) met with five newly elected members of the Illinois congressional delegation--all Democrats-- in his Capitol Senate leadership office on Thursday morning. From left, Rep.-elect Bill Foster; Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth; Rep.-elect Brad Schneider; Rep.-elect Cheri Bustos and Rep.-elect William Enyart. Not at the session: GOP Rep.-elect Rodney Davis.
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON -- The incoming House members -- six from Illinois -- are here for orientation sessions, looking for places to live and sizing up new colleagues they will be working with after being sworn in on Jan. 3

"After 18 months of campaigning, I just want to get to work," Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) told me.

It's Thursday morning, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) just hosted a breakfast for five of the new members in an office that is part of his Capitol suite. None of them plans to sleep in his or her office -- which some members do to save time and money.

Afterward, Durbin brought up what I had been thinking when I was interviewing Duckworth -- that I met her for the first time in this very suite just weeks after she had been wounded in Iraq, and now she was returning as a newly elected member of Congress.

"Let me just remind you Lynn Sweet, that it was in January of 2005 ... when you and I met Tammy Duckworth for the first time in that office," he said as he pointed toward the room where the breakfast was held.

In 2005 -- as he has every year since -- Durbin invites two wounded soldiers from Illinois recovering in Washington to be his guests for the State of the Union address. I was one of the reporters who showed up to interview the soldiers -- and met Duckworth just weeks after she lost both legs and shattered an arm when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq.

Duckworth won her seat in her second House run -- defeating Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) -- and Durbin, the man who "discovered" her, said, "I can't tell you what it means to me that she finally made it."

Rep.-elect Bill Foster (D-Ill.) isn't like the other freshmen -- because he is not one -- beating Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) in a comeback bid. When he was in the House previously, he was a member of the House Financial Services and Government Oversight committees, and he is considering rejoining those panels.

Foster and Rep.-elect Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) both told me they plan to caucus with other centrist Democrats.

Rep.-elect Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) is no stranger to Congress; her father, Gene Callahan, was a longtime top adviser to former Illinois senators Paul Simon and Alan Dixon.

Rep.-elect William Enyart (D-Ill.) parachuted into the race last June, when he was tapped as a replacement candidate, quitting his post as Commander of the Illinois National Guard.

They all said they were braced to deal with fiscal cliff issues. Said Schneider, "Whatever happens in the current lame duck session, there will be issues that we will have to address when we get here in January."

(White House Photo)
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and President Barack Obama

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel met with President Barack Obama on Friday--and will be sitting down with Vice President Joe Biden. Emanuel is also huddling with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in Washington on Friday; he has a meeting at the White House and sessions set with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, his close friend, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) met with a five newly elected members of the Illinois congressional delegation--all Democrats-- in his Capitol Senate leadership office on Thursday morning. From left, Rep.-elect Bill Foster; Rep.-elect Tammy Duckworth; Rep.-elect Brad Schneider; Rep.-elect Cheri Bustos and Rep.-elect William Enyart. Not at the session: GOP Rep.-elect Rodney Davis.

The new members are in Washington for orientation sessions. They will be sworn-in on Jan. 3, 2013.
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told me Thursday that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) needs to surface--no matter what his problems are.

"I think it is time for Congressman Jackson to speak, to come to the public and answer some basic questions," Durbin said. "There is so much speculation. I've given him--most people have--a long period of time to recuperate from some serious illness and I want to continue to give him that opportunity. But there are some really important questions about his service in office and his continued public service that need to be resolved."

Durbin did not speak to reports that Jackson is under a federal investigation for misuse of campaign funds--and is working on a plea deal. It is time, Durbin said, for Jackson to address the "rumors and allegations" though a meeting or a press conference. I talked to Durbin in his office in the Capitol, with Congress back at work for the lame duck session.

The Mayo Clinic said Jackson left in-patient treatment for bi-polar depression on Tuesday--his second stint at the facility. Jackson has been absent from Congress since June 10.

The latest Sun-Times coverage by Natasha Korecki is HERE.

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown calls for Jackson to stay in or get out by Dec. 12 and save costs of a special election to replace him; his column is HERE.

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WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama has the back of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, whom he may pick to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Obama fired off a warning to Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) at his Wednesday press conference if they go after Rice because of comments she made about the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were murdered.

You could feel the intensity in the East Room as Obama aimed at the two Republicans, who are talking about Watergate-style hearings over the Libyan killings.

McCain and Graham have said if Obama nominated Rice for secretary of state, they would block her appointment.

"If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," Obama said. ". . . When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me," said Obama.

Obama's comments were angry and personal -- emotions rarely on display.

Rice got in a jam when she appeared on Sunday talk shows and said the murders were triggered by an anti-Muslim video produced in the United States. Later, the incident was labeled a terrorist attack -- and Rice's first explanation became a flash point with congressional Republicans and the Mitt Romney campaign.

Obama went to the mat for Rice at the first press conference he held since his re-election -- and, more telling, the first time in eight months he has taken questions from the White House press corps. During his re-election campaign, Obama was focused on getting press from regional and specialty outlets and in targeted national interviews and shows.

The president brushed aside the sex scandal that erupted last Friday, ruining the career of now former CIA Director David Petraeus. "My main hope right now is -- is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career," he said.

The Petraeus scandal and Obama's stand for Rice intersect over the Libya murders -- now seen as planned terrorist attacks. Petraeus was to have testified Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee about whether the U.S. ignored warning signs, and is expected to testify -- probably this week -- despite his resignation.

Republicans have targeted Rice for scorn since she appeared on Sunday talk shows five days after the attacks and talked about the anti-Muslim video as the triggering incident.

Defending Rice, Obama said, "she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.

"If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.

"And you know, we're after an election now. I think it is important for us to find out exactly what happened in Benghazi, and I'm happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants. We have provided every bit of information that we have, and we will continue to provide information. And we've got a full-blown investigation, and all that information will be disgorged to Congress."

I first wrote about Obama and Rice in October 2005, when Obama was a senator from Illinois. That's when Rice was willing to come to Chicago to help Obama raise money for his political action committee, called the Hopefund. Rice -- along with others who served in the Clinton White House -- briefed some of Obama's best donors, a perk for their fund-raising and bundling efforts.

When Obama ran for president in 2007, Rice's support was a big deal -- since she served in the Clinton administration and was pointedly not supporting Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

Last week, when I wrote that Rice was a potential pick for State, a source familiar with Obama's thinking on this told me not to underestimate the loyalty Obama has to Rice.

**** ***** *****

Here's what Obama said about Rice at his first press conference in eight months--and the first since his re-election last Tuesday:

"But let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. As I've said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.

"If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.

"And you know, we're after an election now. I think it is important for us to find out exactly what happened in Benghazi, and I'm happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants. We have provided every bit of information that we have, and we will continue to provide information. And we've got a full-blown investigation, and all that information will be disgorged to Congress.

"And I don't think there's any debate in this country that when you have four Americans killed, that's a problem. And we've got to get to the bottom of it, and there needs to be accountability. We've got to bring those who carried it out to justice. They won't get any debate from me on that.

"But when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me. And should I choose -- if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity -- the State Department, then I will nominate her. That's not a determination that I've made yet."

Reporting from the White House before President Obama's first press conference since re-election.

WASHINGTON--House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi will stay in the job, the Sun-Times has confirmed. Pelosi told the Democrats meeting on Wednesday morning about her decision. She still has to be elected by the Democrats who will serve in the next Congress; that is seen as a formality.

From a source close to Pelosi: "she will continue to serve as Democratic Leader. She has just announced her decision to her Caucus. Ten years ago today, Nancy Pelosi was elected as the first woman to lead a political party in Congress. She will continue to lead a united Democratic Caucus that will play a crucial role in developing a responsible deficit reduction package - working with President Obama and our colleagues in the Senate - that protects Social Security and Medicare, the middle class and children, while asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share."

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) a key figure in negotiations to avoid the looming Dec. 31 "fiscal cliff" deadline, said Wednesday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that "the election was a pretty straight up question as to whether or not we were going to raise taxes on the wealthiest people." With President Barack Obama's decisive win, in the Senate, "many Republicans believe that now is the time to sit down and talk about revenue."

The Democratic-controlled Senate will be able to cut a deal--maybe with as many as 20 Republicans, Durbin said--as the problem remains getting something through the GOP run House.

WASHINGTON--Following the re-election of President Barack Obama, petitions for states to secede from the United States--including Illinois--are on the White House "We the People" website. If a petition reaches 25,000 on-line signatures within 30 days of posting, the Obama administration is supposed to "review" the petition.

There are two Illinois secession petitions on the site: as of Wednesday morning, one has 2,223 signatures; the other 3,047. Running the two petition has clearly diluted the Illinois impact. Each faces a Dec. 11 deadline to get 25,000 signatures to trigger the review.

Also in the running: A petition to "peacefully" have the University of Illinois get "Chief Illiniwek back as the school mascot." So far, that one has 2,296 signatures. For a history of the controversy of the chief, click HERE.

The Daily Caller in an analysis posted Wednesday morning found seven states already met the 25,000-signature threshold, with Texas in the lead with 92,400 signers.

From the Daily Caller: "By 6:00 a.m. EST Wednesday, more than 675,000 digital signatures appeared on 69 separate secession petitions covering all 50 states, according to a Daily Caller analysis of requests lodged with the White House's "We the People" online petition system."

What is the "We the People" petition program? From the White House: "We the People is a new, easy way for Americans to make their voice heard in our government. It is a platform on the White House website where individuals can create and sign petitions that call for action by the federal government on a range of issues facing our nation. If a petition gathers enough signatures, it will be reviewed by White House staff and receive an official response. We the People helps the White House understand the views of the American people and have a focused and civil conversation with them."

WASHINGTON--Three Illinois Democrats elected to the House last Tuesday--Brad Schneider, Bill Foster and Tammy Duckworth--are here for orientation sessions and to take part in picking leaders for the next Congress. They will be sworn-in next January. Foster is a former member, so he is familiar with House procedures.

WASHINGTON--House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to announce on Wednesday whether she will seek to be re-elected to the top Democratic leadership post in the House. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is leading a charge to get her to stay. There has been talked about Pelosi stepping aside.

"Progressives are trying to get the word out, 'we want her to stay,''' Schakowsky told me Tuesday night. When Schakowsky talked to Pelosi on Tuesday, Pelosi "sounded ambivalent" about staying.

Asked Tuesday whether she would stay as the Democratic Leader, Pelosi said, "Let's see, what time is it now? It's 2 o'clock on Tuesday. I'll see you right here 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. While I love you all very dearly, I thought maybe I would talk to my own Caucus before I shared that information with you. So, I'll see you 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. Okay?"

WEDNESDAY--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is expected on Wednesday to be re-elected as Assistant Majority Leader, the number two post in the Senate. He has held the slot since 2006. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nv.) is expected to remain as Majority Leader, the top spot.

Wednesday's meeting:

· Mark Bertolini, President, Chairman and CEO, Aetna

· Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO, Xerox

· Kenneth I. Chenault, Chairman and CEO, American Express Company

· David Cote, Chairman and CEO, Honeywell

· Mike Duke, President and CEO, Walmart

· Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric

· Andrew Liveris, President, Chairman and CEO, Dow

· Robert McDonald, President and CEO, Proctor & Gamble

· Alan Mulally, President and CEO, Ford

· Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo.

· Ginni Rometty, President, Chairman and CEO, IBM

· John Watson, Chairman and CEO, Chevron

Tuesday's meeting:

· Mary Kay Henry, SEIU

· Lee Saunders, AFSCME

· Dennis Van Roekel, NEA

· Rich Trumka, AFL-CIO

· Neera Tanden, Center for American Progress

· John Podesta, Center for American Progress

· Bob Greenstein, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

· Laura Burton Capps, Common Purpose Project

· Max Richtman, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

· Justin Ruben, MoveOn

· Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change

Obama Nov. 12, 2012 week ahead

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President Barack Obama, his spine fortified by his re-election, is setting the stage for blaming Republicans for raising your taxes, as Congress returns to work Tuesday -- racing a Dec. 31 deadline to avoid falling off of a "fiscal cliff."

What's your preference: (A) a federal tax hike for everybody, or (B) a boost for only those people who make more than $250,000-a-year -- that's about 2 percent of Americans.

Obama is betting that most people will pick (B) as he spoke out Friday for the first time since he won his second term about the looming "fiscal cliff" battle with House Republicans over taxes and spending in the lame-duck session.

Here's the situation: If Congress does not act, the tax rate hikes and major spending cuts automatically take effect on Jan. 1. This ticking fiscal time bomb was put in the Budget Control Act of 2011 after lawmakers could not agree on a deficit-reduction plan. In short, they built a potential outcome no one wanted -- on the theory that this bad public policy would force compromise.

Bush-era tax cuts that we all get will expire Dec. 31. Obama went along with extending these tax breaks in 2010 -- and disappointed Democrats because he flinched when it came to having the wealthy pay more.

Now, with a second term clinched, Obama is telling House Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that this time, he won't back down.

I could almost hear the Tom Petty song with that title playing in the background when on Friday Obama made a short statement about the upcoming fiscal battles.

Keep in mind that Obama campaigned for re-election on having the wealthy pay more. He was absolutely explicit on this. He made this a point in almost every campaign speech. Mitt Romney was against, Obama was for having the wealthy pay more.

The Obama strategy that became clearer on Friday is this: Obama is trying to delink the fate of the tax cuts that expire Dec. 31 from negotiations over a broader deficit-reduction package. He wants to safeguard first the existing tax breaks for earners below $250,000.

"Right now if Congress fails to come to an agreement on an overall deficit-reduction package by the end of the year, everybody's taxes will automatically go up on January 1st -- everybody's, including the 98 percent of Americans who make less than $250,000 a year," Obama said.

"And that makes no sense. It would be bad for the economy and it would hit families that are already struggling to make ends meet. Unfortunately, we shouldn't need long negotiations or drama to solve that part of the problem. While there may be disagreement in Congress over whether or not to raise taxes on folks making over $250,000 a year, nobody -- not Republicans, not Democrats -- want taxes to go up for folks making under $250,000 a year."

Boehner and other Republicans say they don't want taxes to increase for anybody -- no matter their income -- but may be open to other ways to raise more revenue.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) is a member of the GOP leadership team looking for a way off the fiscal cliff.

I asked him how he interpreted Obama's win -- if his stump speech call for the wealthy to pay more and share the burden was a mandate.

"The president has said a lot of things. He said he was going to close Guantanamo," Roskam said, referring to one of Obama's most famous first-term broken promises.

" . . . I look at it as just another thing that the president said. Because it certainly is not a mandate to raise taxes. Because if that was true, Nancy Pelosi would be the next speaker of the House," Roskam said.

After all, just as Obama was re-elected -- so was the anti-tax rate hike House majority, Roskam noted.

Let's put aside the matter of who has a mandate and just look at how this may play out:

Obama is betting his populist position will look more bipartisan and reasonable. He wants to sign a bill giving the GOP almost all but 2 percent of what it wants: letting 98 percent of us keep our tax breaks.

CHICAGO--Planning has already started for Obama to be sworn into his second term -- with the date a historic footnote.

The 57th presidential inauguration is to take place on Jan. 21. Say what? The 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 1933 set the date at noon Jan. 20.

Why the next day? According to the House/Senate committee handling inauguration ceremonies, the 2013 inauguration marks the seventh time since 1933 that Jan. 20 in an inauguration year has landed on a Sunday.

The committee: "Since 1901, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has been responsible for the planning and execution of the swearing-in ceremonies and the luncheon for the Inauguration of the President of the United States at the U.S. Capitol."

Who is on the committee: "The Vice President appoints Senators and the Speaker of the House of Representatives appoints House members. The JCCIC comprises the Senate Majority Leader (at the time of appointment), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority and Minority Leaders of the House of Representatives."

A day after winning election to a second term, President Barack Obama, Michelle, Malia and Sasha returned to the White House from their Kenwood home -- with Obama stopping by his headquarters here for an emotional send-off to his campaign workers.

Obama was joined by campaign manager Jim Messina and chief strategist David Axelrod. They all gave shout-outs to the staff and volunteers who gathered together in the massive Prudential Building office for the last time.

Almost all of the paid staff in Chicago and in state operations will be without jobs in a few days. Obama stayed about an hour.

Cabinet, other changes

Meanwhile, the Obama second term will be starting to take shape, with speculation already raging about Cabinet switches and other high-level staff changes that may be in the works. I don't expect any wholesale, done-in-a-day overhauls; rather, watch for a gradual process.

Here's the talk:

♦ Treasury. The current White House chief of staff, Jack Lew, has the inside track to be named Treasury secretary to replace Tim Geithner. Another name floating around is Erskine Bowles, who was a White House chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton.

♦ Chief of staff. Names that have been mentioned to replace Lew (who followed Bill Daley who came after Rahm Emanuel) include senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett also oversees the White House offices of intergovernmental affairs and public engagement. Jarrett's role is larger than her titles suggest; she is a counselor-at-large on a variety of matters, often travels with the president and is a personal confidante to both the president and Mrs. Obama.

Another name mentioned is Ron Klain, an attorney who most recently was helping Obama in debate prep. Klain has been chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden and Vice President Al Gore.

♦ State. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is eager to leave. I've heard that United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice is at the top of the list to replace her -- even if she has to navigate through the controversy over the timeline she offered about the murders of the four American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been very interested in the spot, but quitting his Senate seat would trigger a consequence: another battle over a Massachusetts Senate seat. Republican Sen. Scott Brown, defeated Tuesday by Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren, could start plotting a comeback.

♦ Defense. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta commutes back home to California almost weekly and is said to looking for an off-ramp in the next months. One name mentioned is former Undersecretary Michele Flournoy -- who would be the first woman in the spot.

♦ Education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the former Chicago schools chief, wants to stay -- and there is no plan for a change.

♦ Attorney General. Attorney General Eric Holder would like to leave eventually -- but does not want to seem as if he were run out of office over the "Fast and Furious" gun-running controversy. The top name to replace him is Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

♦ Transportation. A bit back, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood signaled one term might be enough; I'm told he may be persuaded to stay on -- at least for a while.

♦ Agriculture. Secretary Tom Vilsack was interested in staying -- but that was when his wife, Christie, was running for an Iowa House seat. She lost Tuesday, so the couple may be rethinking their future.

The inauguration

Planning has already started for Obama to be sworn into his second term -- with the date a historic footnote.

The 57th presidential inauguration is to take place on Jan. 21. Say what? The 20th Amendment to the Constitution in 1933 set the date at noon Jan. 20.

Why the next day? According to the House/Senate committee handling inauguration ceremonies, the 2013 inauguration marks the seventh time since 1933 that Jan. 20 in an inauguration year has landed on a Sunday.

(video by Jon Sall)

(video by Lynn Sweet)

(video by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--President Barack Obama should not spend too long relishing his stunning victory.

In a few days he has to confront a divided Congress -- albeit with a vastly strengthened hand -- to prevent the nation from falling off the "fiscal cliff" at the end of the year.

Obama in his first term never achieved the post-partisan era he promised when he ran the first time. Now he has a second chance.

How will he govern? How will he break through a gridlocked Republican House and a Democratic Senate that the election also yielded?

He will have his first test very soon. Congress meets again Nov. 13, staring at an end-of-year deadline to avoid that fiscal cliff during the lame-duck session. The issues are the very ones that defined the 2012 presidential contest: taxes, the skyrocketing national debt and the budget. If Congress does not act by Dec. 31 on these inter-related matters, a series of automatic cuts kick in under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Obama whipped Mitt Romney in a race the Republicans said he could never win as long as unemployment was high. Yet Obama beat Romney in most of the nine battleground states where this election was most fiercely fought.

That certainly makes him stronger in dealing with Congress. And the Republicans in the House could or should know that a rejection of Romney could be seen in part as an affirmation of the Obama agenda.

Will the GOP leadership give Obama running room?

I caught up with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 leader in the Senate, at McCormick Place as he was leaving to connect with Obama before returning to the hall for the election night celebration.

"We are just weeks away from seeing something none of us want to see happen," he told me.

Obama will, of course, reach out to GOP leaders.

But it is a two-way street.

"It is important that we have some kind of effort I hope by the leadership on the Republican side to say this campaign is over, we are ready to work," Durbin said.

One of the biggest mistakes of Obama and his team was not figuring out a way to blunt the rise of the Tea Party movement. A lot depends on how the GOP deals with its right wing in the wake of Romney's defeat.

"I don't want to be too negative," Durbin said, "but they [the Tea Party] have not been helpful at all and I don't know if there is a change of heart after this election."

Obama will get pressure from his own ranks -- from the progressives who fault him even as he won a second term -- as too ready to compromise.

In his victory speech, Obama reached out to Romney. "In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward."

The biggest thing Obama has going for him is that he does not have hanging over him another campaign. He can use all the fight he talked about in the closing days of the campaign to see if he can do it right this time around.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--The Obama election night event at McCormick Place will include grass roots supporters, big donors, staffers--and celebrities. I've obtained a list of who is expected to be here tonight; here is the Who's Who:

Aisha Tyler

Melanie Griffith

Ben McKenzie

Stevie Wonder


Vivica Fox

Star Jones

Adewale Ogunleye

Wade Davis

Chris Walla

BD Wong

Mary J Blige

Zach Quinto

Ashley Judd

Alfre Woodard

Lynn Whitfield

Justin Long


Among the players in President Barack Obama's basketball Election Day game:

White House Chef Sam Kass

Brother-in-law Craig Robinson

Former Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias

Former Bulls Star Scottie Pippen,

plus Jeff Sanders, Randy Brown

(Video by Marcus Gilmer)

CHICAGO--President Barack Obama is playing basketball on Tuesday afternoon--right now as I am posting this-- at Attack Athletics, 2641 W. Harrison St.

Obama played at this gym--a place where the pros go to train--on election day in 2008.

Bruce Springsteen at Columbus, Ohio rally for President Barack Obama at Nationwide Arena performs "Land of Hope and Dreams" before Obama speaks.
(video by Lynn Sweet)

CHICAGO--Election Day and soon the maps in media outlets will show states red or blue. Who picked the colors? And when did it get nailed down--red for Republican and blue for Democratic? Find out in a story by Jodi Enda in Smithsonian Magazine. Read it HERE.

Excerpt: "Here's something else we know: All the maps--on TV stations and Web sites election night and in newspapers the next morning--will look alike. We won't have to switch our thinking as we switch channels, wondering which candidate is blue and which is red. Before the epic election of 2000, there was no uniformity in the maps that television stations, newspapers or magazines used to illustrate presidential elections. Pretty much everyone embraced red and blue, but which color represented which party varied, sometimes by organization, sometimes by election cycle."

Alan Goldsher in the Jewish Daily Forward writes about being beat up by Rahm Emanuel and his brother Ari as a kid--when he would go to their Wilmette home to get an allergy shot from their physician father. Read the account HERE.

Hat tip to Carol Felsenthal who spotted this story and highlighted in in her Chicago Magazine blog which is HERE.

windy city live.jpg
(ABC7 photo)

This morning, I was on the set of ABC7's "Windy City Live" to talk about the presidential election--and whether it is time to throw out the Electoral College.

CHICAGO--Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill are touching down in battleground Ohio--in Cleveland-on Election Day en route to Chicago. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are also doing a last-minute stop in the city. The Biden visit had not been on his daily public schedule.

obamaphonebank.jpgPresident Barack Obama calls a volunteer from a campaign office in Hyde Park on Tuesday. | Getty Images

CHICAGO--President Barack Obama is spending Election Day morning at the Fairmont Hotel doing satellite television interviews with outlets in battleground states, but before arriving, he stopped by a Hyde Park campaign field office to make calls to get-out-the-vote--and say the campaign with Mitt Romney was "hard fought."

In a contest that may end up a photo finish, both Obama and Romney were working to turnout their vote: After voting in Belmont, Mass., Romney was flying to Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on election day, before returning to Boston. Paul Ryan voted in Janesville, Wisc. before heading to Cleveland and Richmond, Virginia.

Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill voted in Wilmington, Delaware and then stopped in Cleveland--the visit was not announced on their public schedule--before heading to Chicago--where they also will be doing a series of battleground state interviews.

Obama spent Monday night at his Kenwood home where he will also stay on Tuesday. After electioneering chores--or between--he will play his traditional election day basketball game with buddies--eat dinner at home--and then at some point motorcade downtown. He will end the night at McCormick Place, where he will make a victory or concession speech--or something in-between if the results are not known.

Obama joined the phone bank at the Hyde Park field office--at Harper Ave. and Hyde Park Blvd.--to make six calls and then tipped his hat to Romney for running a "spirited campaign" and a "hard-fought race" as he predicted he would have "the votes to win."

Talking to the press pool, Obama said, "The great thing about these campaigns is after all the TV ads and all the fundraising and all the debates and all the electioneering, it comes down to this. One day and these incredible folks who are working so hard, making phone calls, making sure that people go out to vote. So I just want to say thank you to the American people.

"It's a source of great optimism for me whenever I come to Election Day because I end up having so much confidence in the decency and goodness and wisdom of the very folks who are working so hard trying to move their own small piece of this country forward."

Turning to the contest with Romney, Obama said, "I also want to say to Governor Romney, congratulations on a spirited campaign. I know that his supporters are just as engaged and just as enthusiastic and working just as hard today. We feel confident we've got the votes to win that it's going to depend ultimately on whether those votes turn out. And so I would encourage everybody on all sides just to make sure that you exercise this precious right that you have that people fought so hard for, for us to have," Obama said.

"I'm looking forward to the results. And I expect that we'll have a good night. But no matter what happens, I just want to say how much I appreciate everybody who has supported me, everybody who has worked so hard on my behalf. And again, I want to congratulate Gov. Romney and his team for a hard-fought race as well. OK?"

Obama is doing interviews today with--and this is a partial list--stations in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Miami, Tampa, Washington D.C. (covers the northern Virginia market), Denver and Las Vegas.

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney talk to ESPN's Chris Berman at halftime of the Monday night Eagles/Saints game. Obama predicts the Chicago Bears can win the Superbowl. See the interviews HERE.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- "Ohio, I'm not ready to give up on the fight," President Barack Obama is saying Monday at the second-to-the-last rally of the final day of his last election campaign. "I've got a whole lot of fight left in me, and I hope you do, too."

Obama is at the Nationwide Arena here, with Bruce Spring­steen and Jay-Z as his warm-up acts -- Springsteen a bit zany doing an imitation of Obama singing Al Green. "I believe that the president has musical aspirations," Springsteen quipped, "which is why I'm trying to get him elected . . . got to keep the competition away."

Springsteen was with Obama at his last Ohio rally four years ago -- it was in Cleveland and much larger -- and returned with him for his final stand in the Buckeye state on Monday. But as we all know, no matter how much fight Obama says he has in him -- it's not up to him.

The voters decide Tuesday in a contest that is almost too close to call, despite each side and their allies throwing in at least $1 billion each. Mitt Romney could win -- but I am guessing Obama pulls it out after a 2012 contest as grim as the 2008 election was uplifting.

The rally is boisterous -- this is Obama's crowd after all, and who doesn't love the Boss and Jay-Z -- with demographic diversity like you never see at a Romney event: black, white, old, young. This rally is close to Ohio State University -- and that's no accident. Obama's votes come from campus towns and cities.

Bellwether Ohio is the major battleground, with the brawl for its 18 electoral votes fierce -- no Republican has won the White House without this state. That's a reason why Romney's campaign plane touched down at the airport here a short time after the Obama rally for Romney's election eve visit.

Hold on -- it is not really election eve here -- Ohio voters have been at it for a month.

For all the splash and pizzazz of rallies, the mechanics of elections are what often win it for candidates, and Obama's team has been at it for years. In 2008, Obama's campaign realized the potential of corralling early votes, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) never built a deep ground game.

Romney did not make that mistake; his campaign built get-out-the-vote operations aimed at the early vote. Exploiting the potential of early voting has been a hallmark of the 2012 presidential election. Why vote early? You never know when a hurricane is going to strike.

"How many have early voted around here?" Obama asked the crowd, and it seemed, by the shouts back at him, a heck of a lot had.

Marna Fitzpatrick, 32, a digital advertising marketer from Dublin -- wearing an "Obama mama" T-shirt -- was at the rally and told me she tried to vote early: "I went and made an effort to go twice." But the line was too long each time. She will vote in person on Tuesday.

In a few hours, we'll know whether Obama has four more years to fight for all the change he has been promising us.

Said Obama: "We've come too far to turn back now. We've come too far to let our hearts grow faint. Now's the time to keep pushing forward."

CHICAGO--Mitt Romney flies to Cleveland and Pittsburgh on Tuesday for election day campaigning in battleground states before heading back to Boston--where his campaign is headquartered--for an election night appearance at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. Paul Ryan is also stumping today.

Click below for details...

COLUMBUS, Ohio--President Barack Obama will continue his election day tradition on Tuesday--and play a basketball with buddies in Chicago, Obama for America spokesman Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday. Obama has no plans to leave Illinois during Tuesday, she said.

BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- The contest between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is ending so close, I'm wondering if I should be booking a room for the Ohio recount.

Kidding aside, this has been a long, nasty slog, starting with the GOP primary last year.

It will end in a few hours.

Obama flies to Chicago tonight, and unlike 2008 -- when it was clear he was going to beat Sen. John McCain -- Tuesday will be tougher.

We'll see if he continues his election day tradition of playing basketball -- or if he will be using Tuesday exclusively to make turnout calls until polls close in the battleground states deciding who will be the next president. In 2008, Obama jetted over to an Indiana phone bank before hitting the gym in Chicago.

New polls from Pew Research and NBC/WSJ suggest that Obama has been bolstered by his handling of Hurricane Sandy. Battleground state surveys show a lean toward Obama -- but are too close to call. The Columbus Dispatch on Sunday had Obama at 50 percent to 48 percent for Romney -- a toss-up. CNN/ORC International on Sunday put the national number at 49 percent each for Obama and Romney.

I welcomed the Sunday morning email from Obama's main SuperPAC -- the one Mayor Rahm Emanuel is raising money for -- because the message said "final ads" in the subject line. By the way, Politico reported a few days ago that Emanuel was calling unions asking for donations of "at least six-figures and in at least one case requested a union contribute $1 million."

Toss-up Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, remains the top prize in the quest for 270 electoral votes to win the White House. The Obama and Romney teams -- or their top surrogates -- have been commuting here daily in the closing chapter of the contest.

The deadlocked rivals were working their base votes in the battleground states Sunday where an investment of their time may still make a difference. On Sunday, Obama visited Concord, N.H. -- where he twined with former President Bill Clinton -- then Hollywood, Fla., Cincinnati and a late night in Denver.

Romney was in Des Moines, Cleveland, Newport News, Va., and Morrisville, Pa.

Vice President Joe Biden and wife Jill and Rep. Paul Ryan also were in Ohio.

Romney and Obama close out their Ohio quest with rallies in Columbus on Monday a few hours apart -- with Obama bringing with him Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z.

This being the final Sunday before the election, and with polls open between 1 and 5 p.m., in Ohio, the Obama team was running its "souls to the polls" get-out-the vote-after-church program aimed at African Americans.

The closing stump speeches of Obama and Romney are instructive in that as the campaign has progressed, Romney, needing a snapping slogan, simply lifted one from Obama. Romney's team even picked the same powder blue for their "real change" signs.

That Obama let his "hope and change" mantra of 2008 slip through his fingers -- starting, lets say, with the rise of the Tea Party movement in 2009 -- is understandable, since his 2008 campaign was aspirational. He had no record to defend.

On the final weekend of the campaign, Obama has been on the defensive over the change claim. Romney has been hitting him hard on that point. One of his most potent appeals -- it seems to me -- has been wooing disappointed 2008 Obama voters.

In Cleveland, Romney, who appeared with country music singer Rodney Atkins, said, "The question of this election comes down to this. Do you want four more years of the same, or do you want real change?

"Now, President Obama promised change but he couldn't deliver it. I not only promise change, I have a record of achieving it."

Obama, in Hollywood, Fla., said, "Governor Romney is a very talented salesman. So in this campaign, he's tried as hard as he can to repackage these old ideas that didn't work and pretend that they're new ideas, and he's offering them up as change. But here's the thing, Florida. We know what change looks like."

Said Obama, "What Governor Romney is offering ain't it."

Obama Nov. 5 week ahead

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BEACHWOOD, Ohio--President Barack Obama Chicago pal and Obama campaign treasurer Martin Nesbitt is on the stump with the president as Air Force One hits the battleground states.

Nesbitt was with Obama on the campaign plane for the closing chapter in 2008. Nesbitt is also a basketball playing buddy. Obama played basketball on every primary election day (but one) and went to a Chicago gym on general election day in 2008. Will there be a game Tuesday?

Romney, Ryan: Change is the subject

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BEACHWOOD, Ohio -- Three days before the election, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan scrambled through battleground states Saturday, promising change they said President Barack Obama failed to deliver.

Romney and Ryan stumped in states Obama won in 2008, needing to flip enough to win 270 electoral votes -- with battleground polls giving neither Romney nor Obama decisive leads, setting the stage for a potential nail-biter Tuesday night.

"In 2008 President Obama made all these lofty promises, it sounded so good," Ryan said at a Marietta rally -- deep in southeastern Ohio coal country.

A big sign behind Ryan was headlined "Real Change." In the closing weeks of the ferocious battle, the Romney team has appropriated the "hope and change" slogan that helped propel Obama win in 2008.

Romney, in Newington, N.H., appealed to disappointed 2008 Obama voters, asking supporters to "spend some time in the next three days to see neighbors and maybe ones with an Obama sign in front of their home and just go by and say, look, let's talk this through a bit because, you see, President Obama came into office with so many promises and he's fallen so far short and just remind them of some of the things they may have forgotten."

Romney hit New Hampshire, Iowa and Colorado. Ryan was dispatched to Ohio, Virginia, Florida--and in a late bid to put another state in play, touched down in Pennsylvania.

The Romney ticket pounced on Obama for telling backers during a Friday rally in Springfield, Ohio --when the crowd was booing Romney -- "Vote. Voting's the best revenge."

Seizing on the single word, Romney in Dubuque, Iowa, said, "yesterday the president said something you may have already heard that I found troubling. He spoke to an audience and said voting is the best revenge. He's asking his -- he's asking his supporters to vote for revenge. I'm asking you to vote for love of country."

Ryan in Marietta said, "In 2008 he appealed to our highest aspirations, now he's appealing to our lowest fears. Just yesterday he was asking his supporters at a rally to vote out of revenge.

" . . . We don't believe in revenge. We believe in change and hope," Ryan said.

While Romney and Ryan--as does Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and all their surrogates--are flooding the major media markets in the battlegrounds for a final free media splash with their rally speeches, slashing radio ads fly below the radar.

Romney has been betting that he can run up votes in southeast Ohio--where coal, oil and gas production are major economic engines-- by portraying Obama as leading a "war on coal."

A Romney ad playing on local radio slamming Obama asked, "imagine what he would do if he never had to come to coal country again, pretending to be on our side."

BEACHWOOD, Ohio--The Obama campaign ground game and turnout strategy is discussed in a detailed memo campaign manager Jim Messina et al released on Saturday to show....they are in good shape going into the Tuesday election. No matter the outcome, the memo is a primer on how to organize.

Read entire memo below...

BEACHWOOD, Ohio--Bill Clinton is being deployed to Pennsylvania on Monday---with four stops the day before the election-- to snuff out the Romney campaign last minute bid to put Pennsylvania in play.

The Romney team is pumping in ads and candidate stops: Mitt Romney is in Pennsylvania on Sunday and Paul Ryan stumped in Harrisburg Saturday. That Clinton has to spend time in Pennsylvania on a day when he would otherwise be used to boost turnout in another battleground state-shows the impact of the Romney move.

Clinton on Monday will be in Philadelphia, Blue Bell, Pittsburgh and Scranton, Pennsylvania. From the Obama campaign: "During this final push over the past week, he has held grassroots events in Iowa, Florida, Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Wisconsin."


9/11: Miami, FL

9/12: Orlando, FL

10/3: Durham, NH

10/9: Las Vegas, NV

10/18: Parma, OH (event with Bruce Springsteen)

10/18: Wintersville, OH

10/19: Green Bay, WI

10/29: Orlando, FL

10/29: Youngstown, OH (event with Vice President Biden)

10/30: Minneapolis, MN

10/30: Duluth, MN

10/30: Commerce City, CO

10/30: Denver, CO

10/31: Council Bluffs, IA

10/31: Mason City, IA

10/31: Waterloo, IA

10/31 Eau Clare, WI

11/1: Waukesha, WI

11/1: Perrysburg, OH

11/1: Akron, OH

11/1: Chillicothe, OH

11/2: Palm Beach, FL

11/2: Palm Bay, FL

11/2: Ft. Myers, FL

11/2: St. Petersburg, FL

11/2: Tallahassee, FL


11/3: Chesapeake, VA

11/3: Roanoke, VA

11/3: Bristow, VA (event with POTUS and Dave Matthews)

11/4: Concord, NH (event with POTUS)

11/4: Dover, NH

11/4: Raleigh, NH

11/4: St. Cloud, MN

11/5: 4 stops in Pennsylvania

ohio romney canvass2.JPG
Phone bankers in Romney Ohio headquarters, Columbus.
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

ohio obama canvass2.JPG
Obama canvassers getting briefed at field office near Ohio State University.
(photo by Lynn Sweet)

COLUMBUS, Ohio --Though on opposite sides, Sydney Schmitt, 22, an Ohio State University senior, and Jeff Johnson, 65, a retired Army officer, are doing the same volunteer job: knocking on doors in this battleground state to squeeze out votes for President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.

With the candidates and top surrogates swooping in and out of Ohio before Tuesday's election, it's all part of the ''ground game' with canvassers like Schmitt and Johnson playing crucial roles in bolstering turnout.

The stakes for Ohio's 18 electoral votes are enormous; without them, Romney faces an almost impossible task of earning the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.

Hunt for stragglers

The campaigns, through their ground games, are hunting for their stragglers, mounting massive drives to get their backers to vote.

"The low-hanging fruit is all gone," said Johnson, who has been a part of several GOP campaigns -- John McCain's White House bid and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman's statewide contest.

As Johnson strolled through Upper Arlington, an upscale suburb and Romney turf, he was carrying his "walk sheet," with names of likely Romney voters, who, despite some prodding, have not yet cast an early or absentee ballot.

Behind Johnson's old-fashioned shoe leather campaigning is a lot of high-tech input. His walk sheet was organized to efficiently map out his route, to maximize his time in the field.

Schmitt, with her "walk sheet" on a clipboard, was drumming up votes on blocks near the OSU campus filled with scruffy student apartments -- fertile Obama territory. She volunteered for Obama's 2008 campaign while a high school senior because it "felt like a social movement" and it seemed a "disservice at that time in history not to be involved," she said.

Analyzing voting history

She was armed with information about how students without cars could get to early voting locations -- with the campaign staging buses near the Student Union.

The campaigns have spent months identifying their supporters or likely backers by knocking on doors, making calls and analyzing voting histories. Marketing and demographic information are also used to to identify potential voters.

Four years ago, Obama beat Sen. John McCain in Ohio 51.5 percent to 46.6 percent in part because his ground operation locked in early votes. Romney forces are not making that same mistake.

"This ground game here has just dwarfed anything done in '08 and '04," Scott Jennings, Romney's Ohio campaign chief, told me.

The campaigns have already identified their most reliable voters, but with the race so close, the goal is to get occasional voters to the polls.

"One thing we are heavily focused on is the low-to-mid propensity voter," said Jennings. "We spent a heck of a lot of time this year knocking on doors and making calls to people who don't appear to be partisan on the voter files, trying to figure out, 'Where are you on this thing?' "

'Personal interaction'

The "low-pros" have been wooed with invitations to tele-town halls and rallies with Romney or a surrogate. "They are going to get a high level of personal interaction with the campaign," Jennings said.

The Obama team has a similar approach.

Campaign manager Jim Messina said, "Early vote helps us mobilize and turn out those who are least -- who are less likely to vote by giving them more time and ways to do that. . . . We're up by double digits among sporadic voters, and among all voters who have early-voted. And that is a big piece."

An Associated Press survey of early ballots cast in six battleground states -- where voters can be traced based on party affiliation -- shows that more Democratic ballots have been cast in Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio. Colorado was the only state with more GOP early ballots.

Johnson knocked on the door of Stephanie Thornton, a homemaker and Romney backer who told Johnson she prefers to go to the polls on election day. "I will definitely be there Tuesday,'" she said. But that's not good enough to get her off a walk list. She will likely be getting, said Johnson, more reminders until her vote is actually cast.

(video by Lynn Sweet)

MARIETTA, Ohio--Rep. Paul Ryan hit coal country in this battleground state on Saturday morning for a rally at Marietta College--and for folks to get-out-the Mitt Romney vote on Tuesday. Leave nothing undone, "know that we did everything we could," Ryan said.

MARIETTA, Ohio--Before heading out to campaign in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa, President Barack Obama on Saturday visited FEMA headquarters to be briefed on Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. He deployed almost the entire cabinet and other top officials to the task of helping the stricken East Coast and sent several top aides to the devastated area:

from the White House...

Secretary Donovan will visit public housing developments in the Rockaways and tour Breezy Point, New York,
to hear from state and local officials and see first-hand the damage and recovery efforts there.

Secretary Sebelius will visit with hospital workers, residents impacted by the storm, and local officials in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York.

Administrator Mills will join Governor Malloy and other state and local officials in Norwalk and Bridgeport, Connecticut, to meet with small business owners and other residents affected by the storm.

Secretary Napolitano will travel to West Virginia and Long Island, New York to see response and recovery efforts underway.

Assistant to the President for Homeland Security John Brennan will join officials from FEMA, the Department of Transportation, and the Army Corps of Engineers to view impacted areas in Hoboken, Newark, and Jersey City, New Jersey, as well as Staten Island, New York.

for more on Obama administration response click below...

(video by Lynn Sweet)

COLUMBUS, Ohio--President Barack Obama contrasts the differences with Mitt Romney as he makes closing arguments in this battleground state at the state fairgrounds in Hilliard on Friday. On Saturday, Obama stumps near Cleveland while First Lady Michelle Obama headlines grassroots rallies at Miami University in Oxford--Paul Ryan's alma mater--and at Kenyon College in Gambier.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The last jobs report before Election Day, released Friday, showed 7.9 percent unemployment and 171,000 jobs created in October -- strong enough to avoid a last-minute impact in the contest between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Those final jobless numbers from the Labor Department always loomed as a potential landmine for Obama in a race where his tenure over the economy has been an issue from the start to the finish.

Obama is winding up the week on an uptick -- an OK jobs report that didn't rattle the markets or give Romney reason to say anything new -- combined with his handling of the Sandy storm disaster and photos of him with his arm draped around now former nemesis New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may have helped him regain some of the footing that vanished with his poor Denver debate performance.

This all comes while voters are already casting early ballots: The Obama campaign estimated on Friday that 23 percent of Ohio voters have already cast ballots.

The October jobs number is up from the 7.8 percent in September -- which was the lowest since Obama took office in January 2009 -- and continues a drop. The main reason for the tick up is that more people entered the work force. Private-sector jobs have increased for the past 32 months.

The rate was 8.3 percent in August and 8.1 percent in July. That let Obama argue, as he did in this battleground state on Friday, that he is presiding over economic progress.

Speaking to a boisterous crowd in a building with a dusty dirt floor at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hilliard, near Columbus, Obama said, "This morning we learned that companies hired more workers in October than at any time in the last eight months.

"The auto -- the American auto industry is back on top. Home values and housing construction is on the rise. We're less dependent on foreign oil than any time in 20 years. ... We've made real progress, but we are here today because we know we've got more work to do."

Romney -- stumping in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis -- said the growth was not good enough.

"Today we learned that it's actually 7.9 percent, and that's 9 million jobs short of what he promised," Romney said. "Unemployment is higher today than when Barack Obama took office. Think of that. Unemployment today is higher on -- than on the day Barack Obama took office."

The auto vote is critical in Ohio -- and trending toward Obama. The Romney campaign released ads that imply that auto firms the Obama administration bailed out were sending jobs to China, which is not the case. While there has been enormous pushback from the Obama campaign, including a rebuttal ad, Obama personally went after Romney for those spots at his Hilliard stop.

"We've -- look, you know, we've -- we've been seeing this out -- out of Governor Romney and his friends over the last few weeks right here in Ohio. You've got folks who work at the Jeep plant who've been calling their employers, worried. Asking, is it true?" Obama said.

"Are our jobs being shipped to China? And the reason they're making these calls is because Governor Romney's been running an ad that says so. Except, it's not true. Everybody knows it's not true."

The rivals focused on Ohio with four days left in the contentious campaign.

Obama made three stops here on Friday -- touching down also in Springfield and Lima -- and returns Sunday and Monday, an obvious mark of how important this state and its 18 electoral votes are for Obama: It's now seen as his main firewall.

Romney flew from Wisconsin for two stops in Ohio, where he wrapped up the day in West Chester, the home turf to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), with performer Kid Rock and about 100 of his main surrogates -- governors, senators, members of Congress and local officials.

A CNN/ORC International survey of likely voters pegged Obama at 50 percent to Romney at 47 percent. The poll was conducted Tuesday through Thursday with the results in the margin of error -- that is, a dead heat.

COLUMBUS, Ohio--Mayor Rahm Emanuel stumps for President Barack Obama this weekend in Chicago--running up his numbers in Illinois, a state where Obama has had a lock since the start. Emanuel, I am told, will be visiting local offices to help increase turnout.

COLUMBUS, Ohio--The last jobs report before the election was out Friday morning and the 7.9 percent October rate--virtually unchanged from last month--by not jumping to 8 percent--is a break for President Barack Obama. If the number had gone higher--it would have given Mitt Romney at last chance before the Tuesday balloting to mount a strong argument about Obama's tenure over the economy.

The Obama team will be able to argue that there has been 32 months of job growth and the number of "discouraged workers"-- workplace dropouts--has declined. Romney has been hitting Obama on that point.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said 171,00 jobs were created last month. The 8 percent figure has become a political football--Obama had said that unemployment would drop below 8 in order to get his stimulus bill passed.

Below, from the BLS...

Both the unemployment rate (7.9 percent) and the number of unemployed persons (12.3
million) were essentially unchanged in October, following declines in September.
(See table A-1.)

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for blacks increased to 14.3
percent in October, while the rates for adult men (7.3 percent), adult women (7.2
percent), teenagers (23.7 percent), whites (7.0 percent), and Hispanics (10.0 percent)
showed little or no change. The jobless rate for Asians was 4.9 percent in October
(not seasonally adjusted), down from 7.3 percent a year earlier. (See tables A-1,
A-2, and A-3.)

In October, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more)
was little changed at 5.0 million. These individuals accounted for 40.6 percent of
the unemployed. (See table A-12.)

The civilian labor force rose by 578,000 to 155.6 million in October, and the labor
force participation rate edged up to 63.8 percent. Total employment rose by 410,000
over the month. The employment-population ratio was essentially unchanged at 58.8
percent, following an increase of 0.4 percentage point in September. (See table A-1.)

The number of persons employed part time for economic reasons (sometimes referred to
as involuntary part-time workers) fell by 269,000 to 8.3 million in October, partially
offsetting an increase of 582,000 in September. These individuals were working part
time because their hours had been cut back or because they were unable to find a
full-time job. (See table A-8.)

In October, 2.4 million persons were marginally attached to the labor force, little
different from a year earlier. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.) These
individuals were not in the labor force, wanted and were available for work, and had
looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. They were not counted as unemployed
because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey. (See
table A-16.)

Among the marginally attached, there were 813,000 discouraged workers in October, a
decline of 154,000 from a year earlier. (These data are not seasonally adjusted.)
Discouraged workers are persons not currently looking for work because they believe
no jobs are available for them. The remaining 1.6 million persons marginally attached
to the labor force in October had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding
the survey for reasons such as school attendance or family responsibilities. (See
table A-16.)

Mayor Bloomberg endorses Obama

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COLUMBUS, OHIO - It's late in the game, but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Barack Obama on Thursday backing by the political independent that may help Obama with undecided independent voters.

Bloomberg had been withholding his support from both Obama and Mitt Romney and by coming in late he is taking a side. He potentially dilutes the impact, with his nod just days before the Tuesday vote and while early voting has started in the critical battleground states.

Statement from President Obama on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Endorsement:

CHICAGO - President Obama released the following statement today in reaction to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's endorsement:

"I'm honored to have Mayor Bloomberg's endorsement. I deeply respect him for his leadership in business, philanthropy and government, and appreciate the extraordinary job he's doing right now, leading New York City through these difficult days.

"While we may not agree on every issue, Mayor Bloomberg and I agree on the most important issues of our time - that the key to a strong economy is investing in the skills and education of our people, that immigration reform is essential to an open and dynamic democracy, and that climate change is a threat to our children's future, and we owe it to them to do something about it. Just as importantly, we agree that whether we are Democrats, Republicans, or independents, there is only one way to solve these challenges and move forward as a nation - together. I look forward to thanking him in person - but for now, he has my continued commitment that this country will stand by New York in its time of need. And New Yorkers have my word that we will recover, we will rebuild, and we will come back stronger."

Bloomberg released his endorsment in an editorial on his website. You can read the editorial here.

COLUMBUS, OHIO--Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is headed to battlegrounds Colorado and Nevada to help boost President Barack Obama and other Democrats with Hispanic voters and on Monday will do a media blitz with Spanish language outlets to spur turnout the day before the election.

Gutierrez, is headed to Colorado Friday and Nevada on Saturday for campaign swings to talk to Latino voters and others. He will be in the Denver area doing events around that region for Obama and House candidates Ed Perlmutter (CO-7) and Diana DeGette (CO-1).

I'm told he will be "meeting with Latino small business owners and doing a ton of Spanish language radio, TV and print interviews. Then he will be in Reno for Obama and Senate candidate Shelley Berkley talking to Spanish language media and campaign canvassers and supporters. Gutierrez has traveled to Nevada several times this year for Obama and Berkley, but this is his first trip to Colorado. He will be back in Chicago Monday and will be doing media hits for Obama, especially in Spanish language media, in the last minute GOTV phase."

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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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