JUDY WOODRUFF: We take a look at the presidential race as the candidates fanned out across the country today.
Only five days to go before Republicans officially open their national convention in Tampa, looking for a bounce coming out of the swing state of Florida.
But, for now, President Obama still has a small edge over Mitt Romney. According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, the Democratic ticket leads the Republican one 48 percent to 44 percent among registered voters.
That's little changed from July, when Obama had a lead of 49 percent to 43 percent, suggesting Romney got only a slight boost from his vice presidential pick of Paul Ryan.
The four candidates fanned out across the nation today. President Obama was in Nevada, Gov. Romney in Iowa, Vice President Biden in Michigan, and Congressman Ryan in Virginia and North Carolina, shown here on the NewsHour's Vote 2012 Map Center.
The top of the Republican ticket told Iowans today that his running mate would help get the country back on the right fiscal track.
GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R): I want to return to the path that made America the great success it's been. And I understand the implications of that, 12 million jobs for middle-income families, more take-home pay for middle-income families. This is what we have to bring to this country. And the plan I have described will get it done.
JUDY WOODRUFF: On the East Coast, Congressman Ryan was going after the president in another battleground, Virginia. Ryan told the Roanoke crowd that Mr. Obama's health care overhaul would wreck Medicare.
REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis.: He took $716 billion from the Medicare program, which is there for senior citizens, took it and spent it on Obamacare. He treats it like a piggy bank. And his campaign calls this an achievement. Do you think raiding Medicare to pay for Obamacare is an achievement?
PAUL RYAN: Do you think sending one out of six hospitals and nursing homes into bankruptcy or just dropping Medicare patients to pay for Obamacare is an achievement?
PAUL RYAN: Neither do we.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That's the same message the campaign is delivering in its first health care attack ad since the Supreme Court upheld the president's federal mandate in June.
NARRATOR: Some think Obamacare is the same as free health care. But nothing is free. Obama is raiding $716 billion from Medicare, changing the program forever.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The president's campaign also released a new TV ad today, but focused on the issue of public education.
NARRATOR: Mitt Romney says class sizes don't matter. And he supports Paul Ryan's budget, which could cut education by 20 percent.
MAN: You can't do this by shoving 25, 30 people in a class and just teaching to some test.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Obama carried his education message west to Nevada, where he told a packed high school gymnasium that Gov. Romney doesn't understand the value of the nation's teachers.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Gov. Romney says we have got enough teachers, we don't need anymore. You know, the way he talks about them, it seems as if he thinks these are a bunch of nameless government bureaucrats that we need to cut back on.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In Detroit, Vice President Biden spoke to a crowd at Renaissance High School.
VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Stand back, take a look at what these guys value. Let's look at what they're proposing. Let's look at their budget. He wants to make massive cuts, I mean massive cuts, in education.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin's statement this week that the female body can shut down pregnancy in cases of -- quote -- "legitimate rape" continued to distract the Republican ticket.
Like Akin, Ryan opposes abortion in all instances, but he told reporters on the trail today he would defer to Gov. Romney in making an exception in the case of rape.
PAUL RYAN: I'm proud of my record. Mitt Romney is going to be the president. The president sets policy. His policy is exceptions for rape, insist, life of the mother. I'm comfortable with it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: As the political storm continues to rage, meteorologists from the National Weather Service have an eye on Tropical Storm Isaac, as it is now forecast to become a hurricane, possibly off the coast of Florida, Monday, as the Republican Convention opens.
How is the campaign is playing out where it matters most?
We turn to reporters from four battleground states. That's O. Kay Henderson. She's the news director for Radio Iowa, Adam Smith, political editor of The Tampa Bay Times, Karen Kasler, bureau chief for Ohio Public Radio in Columbus, and Jon Ralston, the host of the nightly Nevada television show, "Face to Face."
And we welcome all of you to the NewsHour.
I'm going to quickly go around and ask each one of you what the race looks like where you are.
And start with you, Adam Smith, where I guess everybody is hoping there won't be a hurricane for the Republican Convention. But what does it look like across the state of Florida right now?
ADAM SMITH, The Tampa Bay Times: Yes. Well, I would bring your rain boots down here.
But it looks like a dead heat. And it's been that way, it's been very stable for months.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, at this point, are you sensing a reaction to Romney's pick of Paul Ryan as his running mate?
ADAM SMITH: We haven't seen a big move in the polls. I know there are a lot of Republicans here that are a little anxious about how that's going to play in Florida.
It's a -- it's definitely for Florida, where half our voters are at least 50 years old, that's a risky pick.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Karen Kasler, let me turn to you. What's the statewide sense of the race right now?
KAREN KASLER, Capitol Bureau Chief, Ohio Public Radio: Well, it appears that Ohio is pretty much up for grabs still.
RealClearPolitics has Ohio with 46.8 percent for President Obama, 45 percent for Mitt Romney. A Quinnipiac poll earlier this month had President Obama leading Mitt Romney by six points, 50 percent to 44 percent. We will get a better snapshot of where we are in Ohio tomorrow, when we have two new polls. A Quinnipiac swing state poll comes out tomorrow, as well as the Ohio poll from the University of Cincinnati.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Kay Henderson in Iowa, what does it look like there?
O. KAY HENDERSON, Radio Iowa: It is a dead heat here as well.
Things have not changed much since the beginning of the year. The Paul Ryan pick is sort of turning out, as you talk with Iowa Republicans, as a do-no-harm pick. It really wasn't a game changer for Republican voters. It may have reassured some conservatives, but it certainly didn't change the dynamic of the race, in that you have Republicans who vociferously hope to vote Obama out of office, and you have Democrats who want to retain the White House for President Obama.JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jon Ralston, in Nevada, where President Obama was campaigning today, what does it look like where you are?
JON RALSTON, The Las Vegas Sun: Well, the race is close, Judy.
President Obama when he was running for the presidency in 2008 won here by 12 points. I think he's still a slight favorite here, which is really astonishing when you think about it, because we have maybe the worst economy in the country, highest unemployment rate, foreclosure crisis so bad here. But the polls I trust show Obama slightly ahead here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And what about the reaction of the pick of Congressman Ryan?
JON RALSTON: That's been very interesting, because, as you know, we have a very important U.S. Senate race here between Dean Heller and Shelley Berkley.
And Shelley Berkley had been clouded by this ethics investigation. I think her campaign got reinvigorated by the choice of Paul Ryan, trying to tie Dean Heller, who voted for the Ryan budget twice -- he's the only one who did as both a congressman and a senator -- and another down-ticket race, a very important swing congressional district.
So, the bottom parts of the federal ticket on the Democratic side are actually excited about the Ryan pick.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Back to you, Adam Smith in Florida. You were starting to say that the choice of Congressman Ryan has complicated the story for Republicans in Florida. What did you mean by that?
ADAM SMITH: Well, I mean, there were -- most people were thinking this was going to be an election on the economy, and we're still hurting here in Florida.
And now it looks like Medicare and entitlement reform is going to be a front-burner issue. And then separately, the Hispanic vote here is absolutely critical, and there's very little that it looks like Paul Ryan's going to do to help Romney pick up more Hispanic votes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And on Medicare, the Republicans have come back and with a frontal attack on the president. They have tried to turn that issue around. Is it -- is it too early to sense how that's playing out in Florida?
ADAM SMITH: You know, it used to be really it was a third-rail kind of issue. In the last Senate race, Marco Rubio was very up front about suggesting there were going to need to have cuts for beneficiaries, and he obviously won.
So, it's not quite the dangerous issue that it once was, and right now it seems to be basically both sides throwing everything at each other, saying Obama has raided $700 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare, and the Democrats saying the Romney-Ryan plan is going to gut Medicaid -- Medicare, end it as we know it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And in Ohio, Karen Kasler, whether it's Medicare or another issue, what are voters talking about? What are they bringing up right now when you talk to them and your colleagues?
KAREN KASLER: Well, voters are still telling pollsters that the economy is their number one issue -- 48 percent were reporting that back in the Quinnipiac swing state poll back at the beginning of the month.
We're hearing a lot about the economy, even though Ohio's unemployment rate is actually lower than the national average and continues to drop. It's still, though -- foreclosures and that sort of thing are still a critical issue here.
And with the Ryan pick, I think there were should people in Ohio who were a little disappointed in the Ryan pick because there was widespread speculation that Rob Portman, Ohio's junior senator, the U.S. senator from Cincinnati, was going to end up being the vice presidential choice. But, certainly, you hear a lot of people now saying that they're on board with Ryan.
And Ryan does help Romney in some parts of the state. Romney almost lost -- he barely won the March primary. And those voters that went for Rick Santorum in the rural and urban parts of Ohio, it's thought that maybe Ryan could help Romney with those voters.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Kay Henderson in Iowa, what about this Medicare question that we have been talking about? Iowa is a state that has seen its economy suffer.
O. KAY HENDERSON: The unemployment rate here has done a little uptick in the past month.
In regards to the issue, the Romney campaign is running an ad which essentially accuses of president of being a thief. The Obama campaign has been running advertisements here trying to define Mitt Romney as some sort of robber baron who doesn't care about voters.
So if you look at the campaign advertising and what the candidates have been talking about on the stump here in Iowa, it has appeared, until today, this afternoon, that the candidates are trying to energize their base of voters, because it appears that Iowa is among the purplest of states perhaps still in this election cycle.
But then, this afternoon, Mitt Romney made a plea with his supporters to go out and essentially convert a 2008 Obama voter to vote for him. So that's the first time we have really heard Mitt Romney in a campaign appearance here in Iowa talk about trying to convert and bring in independent and even Democratic voters to the Romney campaign.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That's very interesting.
Jon Ralston, what about in Nevada? Are you picking up anything like that on the Republican side?
JON RALSTON: Well, listen, I think that the issue here is the same as it is everywhere else. It's this mythical undecided voter, Judy.
This is all about now the base election. And that's why I think Ryan had some impact here in a salutary way for the Republicans. He came here just a couple of days after he was picked, showing the importance of this state to that ticket and he really energized the base.
Similarly, President Obama, when he was in Las Vegas today, it was a pure partisan speech at a high school talking about how Mitt Romney wants to cut education and give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, but we need you, we need you to get out. It's about a base election now, Judy. That's really what's going on.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me just quickly go back around with all four of you and ask you about how the campaigns are organized in your state, and do you see that making a difference in such a close race?
Adam Smith, starting with you in Florida.
ADAM SMITH: Oh, they are both very well -- pretty well organized. Obama has by far the biggest campaign operation Florida has ever seen.
I think there are about 50 offices now open in every corner of the state. And Romney, unlike McCain four years ago, really has a pretty solid grassroots operation. He's got dozens of campaign offices. He's investing in sort of the ground troops. And they seem to be getting a lot of people showing up for those phone banks and door knocks.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Karen Kasler?
KAREN KASLER: Well, it seems to be the same here in Ohio.
In 2010, in the off-year elections, the Republicans just dominated, and they have kept that organization. And last year, in Ohio, the Democrats scored a big win with the repeal of a collective bargaining reform law. They're counting on that to help bring their voters out this fall.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And just a few words from you, Kay Henderson in Iowa, on organization.
O. KAY HENDERSON: In 2000, Al Gore won -- oh, on organization.
In 2000, Al Gore won Iowa by about 4,000 votes. In 2004, George W. Bush won by 10,000 votes. This is an incredibly close election again in 2012, and both campaigns have ramped up accordingly.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Jon Ralston, what about Nevada in terms of how well these campaigns are organized?
JON RALSTON: Well, certainly, the Democrats have been much better organized here for quite some time, as you know, Judy.
That's what saved Harry Reid in 2010. That's what could save Barack Obama here, despite the terrible economy. The Republican Party here is just a punchline. You have one part of the party suing another part of the party to kick them out of the party.
So the Romney campaign and the RNC have erected a parallel organization. They have some good people on the ground, but the Democrats are much better organized here.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, thanks to all four of you in four battleground states.
Online, you can use our Vote 2012 Map Center to see what happens if these battleground states flip from 2008.
Also, Gwen and our politics editor, Christina Bellantoni, preview the NewsHour's convention coverage, announcing a partnership with Ustream to give you an all-access pass to the action. Watch that video on our home page.