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Both Candidates Are Campaigning in Ohio

As usual, Ohio is getting a lot of attention. Mitt Romney is traveling around the state by bus, talking to voters. Obama is doing more than talking. He is showering federal goodies on the state, something all incumbent Presidents do. For example, Ohio got $2.3 billion in clean-energy manufacturing tax credits, more than any other state. Obama also saw to it that the state got $400 million to resume the long-defunct passenger rail service between Cleveland and Cincinnati. As a consequence of federal largesse, Ohio's unemployment rate, 7.2%, is lower than the national average. Of course, Obama never tires of pointing out that the auto bailout he pushed through Congress without a single Republican vote saved 150,000 Ohio jobs. Against this, all Romney can do is say Obama has mismanaged the economy, but Ohioans aren't buying it. A poll yesterday put Obama up 8 points and one today put him up 10 points.

Although Romney can't bring money and jobs to Ohio as Obama can and has, he is trying to compensate for that with star power. He campaigned with golf legend Jack Nicklaus and "Dirty Jobs" host Mike Rowe. He also brought in some politicians, include Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

Romney is also trying hard to undo the damage of his "47" remark. Yesterday he said his heart aches for the jobless, rather the opposite of the sentiment expressed in the leaked video. It is hard to imagine many people taking his new-found empathy for the moochers seriously though.

From the outside, Ohio looks like a monolithic state full of rusting auto-parts plants but the reality is more complicated. Here is a good map that breaks down the state's 88 counties by political preference. The Northeast, around Cleveland, Akron, and Canton is heavily Democratic. The Southwest, around Dayton and Cincinnati is highly Republican. The Northwest and Southeast lean Republican. The center of the state, around Columbus, is roughly balanced.

Does Romney Have a Plan B?

With a Quinnipiac poll today showing Romney down 10 points in Ohio and a Washington Post poll yesterday showing him down 8 points there, an obvious question is does he have a plan B to win the election without Ohio? The short answer is: "Not a realistic one." Assuming Obama wins all the states the Democrats have won in the previous five elections--which seems increasingly likely--then Obama has 242 electoral votes. Add to that Ohio and he is at 260. Now add New Mexico, which looks hopeless for Romney, to Obama's total and he has 265 of the 270 he needs. That means Romney would need to win Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia. That's a tall order given that he is way behind in some of them.

Is Arizona in Play?

Team Obama briefly considered competing for Arizona in 2008 but quickly shelved the idea since it is the home state of Sen. John McCain, his 2008 opponent. Now it is considering making a play for Arizona since Romney has no strong ties to the state although it is home to many Mormons. However, demographically, it is somewhat similar to the competitive western states, Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado, with many Latinos. Also important, Arizona has more transplanted elderly Midwesterners than the other states and a pitch attacking Paul Ryan for wanting to replace Medicare with a voucher plan could get traction there. The most recent poll of Arizona gives Romney a mere 3-point lead there.

Some Interesting Debate Questions

While the candidates are using many of the spare hours to study for the Oct. debate in Denver, moderator Jim Lehrer is no doubt burning the midnight oil thinking of challenging questions. To help him out, Politico has come up with five good ones for each candidate, roughly paraphrased as follows:

Questions for Obama

  • Economists say that if the 2009 stimulus had been bigger, more jobs would have been created. Why was it so small?
  • You promised to unite the country but you didn't. How do you answer people who expected you to do it?
  • Why haven't you done more to help people who have lost their homes in the recession?
  • How can you promise to protect entitlements when you have put them on the table?
  • Why haven't you shown leadership on gun control?

Questions for Romney

  • Can you now promise you won't eliminate the mortgage deduction? Name one loophole you will close.
  • If you keep the popular (but expensive) parts of the ACA, how will you pay for it?
  • Is it fair that you pay a lower tax rate than ordinary Americans?
  • Why did Paul Ryan need to give you more tax returns than you are willing to disclose yourself?
  • Name three things you disagree with in Ryan's budget plan.

The first debate is do or die for Romney. He needs a clear victory to stop the downward spiral, lest his funders abandon him and put their money in Senate and House races. Romney has to decide early on what his tone will be. It could be a full frontal attack on Obama as a socialist hell bent on ruining the country. His base would lap that up but the few swing voters left would not like that at all since Obama is personally popular with them. Another approach is to try to depict Obama as a decent human being and good husband and father who is simply in over his head. In other words, paint him as the second coming of Jimmy Carter. But if Obama is in full command of facts and figures and acts presidentially, that approach could easily fail.

Romney's Problem is the Republican Party

Why is Romney unwilling to give the specifics of his budget plan? After all, he is a numbers guy who has looked at hundreds of spreadsheets with budget numbers. That's actually his greatest strength. Why doesn't he take advantage of it to silence his critics?

His problem is that with the deficit at 8% of GDP, new revenues are needed (as well as spending cuts). Romney knows this very well. After all, when the deficit hit 4% of GDP, Ronald Reagan raised taxes. George H.W. Bush did it at 3%. Unfortunately for Romney, in the modern Republican Party any kind of tax increase--ever--is forbidden. If Romney were to speak what he knows to be the truth--that taxes must go up--his base would be outraged. In one of the primary debates he was asked if he would accept a plan that had $10 of spending cuts for every $1 of tax increases and he said no. The bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan is even worse from his point of view: every $3 in spending cuts are matched by $1 of new revenue. Romney can't change his position until after he is inaugurated. Then he will suddenly say: "Gee, the situation is even worse than I expected. We need some new revenue. Drat." But he can't say that before the election or there will be a revolt in his ranks. So he twists himself into a pretzel to avoid saying what he knows to be true.

This subject could easily come up at the first debate. Obama will answer directly that he will raise taxes on incomes above $250,000 to get some needed revenue. Romney will be hard pressed to give a clear answer about how he will reduce the deficit.

McCaskill Opens Fire on Akin in Missouri Senate Race

Now that the deadline for withdrawing from the Missouri Senate race has past, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is letting her opponent, Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), have it with both barrels. She waited until Akin could no longer drop out, but it will be no holds barred from now to election day. She has a large warchest and will be getting help from the DSCC and many outside groups. Akin, in contrast, won't get a penny from the NRSC, Karl Rove, or the major superPACs. Their fear is ads in, for example, Massachusetts, saying: "You know who's behind Scott Brown? The people who are also behind Todd Akin's campaign." It could be the kiss of death.

Akin is not penniless, however. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has a conservative PAC that will help out and former senator Rick Santorum will also do his best, but neither of these can compensate for the loss of support of the Republican establishment. Unless they change their minds, Akin will be outspent by a wide margin.

Today's Presidential Polls

There is almost uniformly bad news for Mitt Romney today. He is way behind in the swing states of Florida, Iowa, and Ohio, and Pennsylvania is not swinging at all. It is solid blue. The only bit of good news for him is that Missouri is looking out of reach of Obama.

The Quinnipac polls are controversial among Republicans because they have a larger percentage of Democrats than were in the 2008 exit polls. In the Florida poll, the sample was D +8 but the actual 2008 vote was D +3. Nevertheless, it could well be true as people change their partisan identification over time. In particular, many seniors in Florida may have stopped identifying as Republicans on account of Ryan's plan to replace Medicare with a voucher plan. In Ohio, the Quinnipiac poll was D +9, not that far from the 2008 exit polls in the state, which showed D +8.

State Obama Romney   Start End Pollster
Florida 53% 44%   Sep 18 Sep 24 Quinnipiac U.
Iowa 51% 44%   Sep 24 Sep 26 PPP
Massachusetts 55% 40%   Sep 24 Sep 24 Rasmussen
Maryland 55% 36%   Sep 17 Sep 23 Gonzales Research
Missouri 44% 50%   Sep 20 Sep 20 Chilenski Strategies
Ohio 53% 43%   Sep 18 Sep 24 Quinnipiac U.
Pennsylvania 52% 43%   Sep 18 Sep 23 Franklin+Marshall Coll.
Pennsylvania 54% 42%   Sep 18 Sep 24 Quinnipiac U.

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Arizona Richard Carmona 41% Jeff Flake 47%     Sep 25 Sep 25 Rasmussen
Connecticut Chris Murphy 48% Linda McMahon 42%     Sep 24 Sep 26 PPP
Florida Bill Nelson* 53% Connie McGillicuddy 39%     Sep 18 Sep 24 Quinnipiac U.
Maryland Ben Cardin* 50% Dan Bongino 22% _MD!I 21% Sep 17 Sep 23 Gonzales Research
Missouri Claire McCaskill* 47% Todd Akin 48%     Sep 20 Sep 20 Chilenski Strategies
Ohio Sherrod Brown* 50% Josh Mandel 40%     Sep 18 Sep 24 Quinnipiac U.
Pennsylvania Bob Casey* 48% Tom Smith 38%     Sep 18 Sep 23 Franklin+Marshall Coll.
Pennsylvania Bob Casey* 49% Tom Smith 43%     Sep 18 Sep 24 Quinnipiac U.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster

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