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New Poll Reveals Stakes for Wednesday’s Debate

Mitt Romney; photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Mitt Romney campaigns last week in Wayne, Pa. Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Heading into Wednesday night’s debate, President Obama holds a narrow lead over Mitt Romney nationally and a more sizeable advantage in the battleground states that will ultimately decided the November election.

According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, the president is running ahead of his GOP rival, 49 percent to 47 percent, among likely voters across the country. But in the key tossup states, voters prefer the president over Romney by a margin of 52 percent to 41 percent.

The Post/ABC findings are consistent with other recent surveys from other organizations. The first presidential debate, which is Wednesday in Denver, offers Romney perhaps his best shot in the next five weeks of shifting the dynamics of the campaign.

Even so, with 36 days till Election Day and early voting happening across the country, an overwhelming number of voters say their minds are already made up. Eighty-six percent of voters responded in the Post/ABC poll that they would definitely vote for their chosen candidate, while just 13 percent said there’s a chance they could change their minds. Even then, of that 13 percent, only 3 percent said there was a “good” chance, compared to 10 percent who said it was “unlikely.”

While the two campaigns attempt to set expectations for their first encounter, there’s a clear favorite in the minds of the American people. When voters were asked who they thought would win the debates, 56 percent chose Mr. Obama, while 29 percent named Romney.

That number might actually be a blessing in disguise for Romney. If voters think the president has the upper hand going into Wednesday night and Romney proves to be his equal, those sitting at home may well give the victory to the challenger.

For more pre-debate reading, the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Ashley Parker look at how the men are preparing for their big moment.

They write that during debate prep with Romney, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has played the role of Mr. Obama so “combatively, attacking Mr. Romney as a rich man who does not care about average Americans [that] he has gotten under the candidate’s skin.”

They quote Romney saying, “We get the chance to debate one another, and after the hour and a half or so is over, I want to kick him out of the room.”

More from Saturday’s story:

Mr. Obama’s team records his practices to sharpen his responses so that they connect on a more visceral level with the television audience. One of Mr. Romney’s aides calculated his words-per-minute rate in the primary campaign debates to break him of the habit of feeling that he needs to rattle off the most statistics.

Mr. Romney’s team has concluded that debates are about creating moments and has equipped him with a series of zingers that he has memorized and has been practicing on aides since August. His strategy includes luring the president into appearing smug or evasive about his responsibility for the economy.

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Lynn Sweet points out that Mr. Obama hasn’t been forced to speak in sound bites since he last stood on a debate stage with Arizona Sen. John McCain four years ago.

New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie, meantime, inspired Internet memes about his 2016 ambitions by raising expectations for Romney’s debate performance on several Sunday shows, while the campaign has been doing the standard lowering of expectations.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation”:

“This whole race is going to be turned upside down come Thursday morning.”

On ABC’s “This Week”:

“I have absolute confidence that, when we get to Thursday morning…you’re going to be shaking your head, saying it’s a brand-new race with 33 days to go.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press”:

“Come Thursday morning, the entire narrative of this race is going to change.”


On Friday’s NewsHour, Mark Shields and David Brooks teed up what each presidential candidate must do Wednesday during the debate.

Mark’s take:

I think [Romney has] got to be absolutely within himself and natural and in control. And remember this. This is an open window for voters. This is the only time we’re going to see the two of these people standing side-by-side.

We’re the employment agency. We’re deciding which one of these people we want. And one of the things we are going to decide is, who do we want in our living room 250 times a year for the next four years? Which one of them is more comfortable with himself?

But, basically, neither one of them has answered the question that voters have. And that is, where do we go from here? How do we get there? We know we’re stalled. We’re still out on the lake and the weather isn’t good. But, you know, maybe the boat hasn’t capsized, but where do we go? Do we go to a safer harbor? How do we get there?

David said Romney would be wise to promise to reform the tax code and offer a simple message of policy competency at the debate. “[W]hat he has to do is shift it off the personal stuff and try to just get it on the policy stuff and try to run a very-policy heavy campaign,” he said.

David also shared his theory as to why Romney is doing better nationally than in the swing states:

[T]he Obama ads are better, because they are running in these swing states and people seem to think they are a more coherent storyline than the Romney ads, which are running less, but they are still running.

They also weighed in on the controversy over the NFL’s replacement refs.

Watch them here or below:

Hari Sreenivasan was back to host the Doubleheader, where they talked about Missouri GOP Rep. Todd Akin and knuckleballs.

Watch the guys here or below:


Today’s tidbit from Face the Facts, which is posting 100 facts over 100 days:

1 in 5 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – about 300,000 veterans to date.


  • The NewsHour looked at the economy and politics to lead off Friday’s program. Watch the segment here or below:

  • Romney wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Monday calling for “a new strategy toward the Middle East.”
  • A Columbus Dispatch poll released Sunday shows Mr. Obama leading Romney by nine points, 51 percent to 42 percent, among likely voters in the Buckeye State.
  • National Journal reported Friday that the White House is moving “to prevent defense and other government contractors from issuing mass layoff notices in anticipation of sequestration, even going so far to say that the contracting agencies would cover any potential litigation costs or employee compensation costs that could follow.”
  • GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan says Eric Holder should resign over “Fast and Furious.”
  • The New York Times’ Jeremy W. Peters catches that an unprecedented number of campaign ads is running during “Dancing With the Stars.”
  • Paul Solman uses his Making Se$nse column to explore Romney’s taxes.
  • The Weekly Standard gets its hands on a mailer from Team Romney saying the Republican is the candidate who will do more to fight Lyme Disease.
  • The Center for Public Integrity’s John Dunbar dives into super donors with a piece ranking the biggest givers.
  • Crossroads Generation uses this chart to show Mr. Obama’s advantage in organizing young voters in 2008 and to urge the GOP to work harder to appeal to that demographic.
  • If you missed Christina’s online chat with Arun Chaudhary, author of “First Cameraman: Documenting the Obama Presidency in Real Time,” here is the transcript.



  • The Washington Post previews the college admissions fight coming up during the Supreme Court session. The NewsHour will have more on what to expect on Monday night.
  • The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman takes a look at the North Dakota Senate race between Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and GOP Rep. Rick Berg.
  • Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown has opened up a 10-point lead over GOP state treasurer Josh Mandel, according to the latest poll by the Columbus Dispatch.
  • A new Boston Globe poll has Democrat Elizabeth Warren leading GOP Sen. Scott Brown by five points, 43 percent to 38 percent, in the Massachusetts Senate race. Eighteen percent of voters in the Bay State said they were still undecided.
  • Rep. Akin shouldn’t really count on much national help in his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri. “I just think that this is not a winnable race,” National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman John Cornyn told a Kentucky newspaper Friday. And Chris Cillizza notes that Akin’s candidacy could cost the GOP the Senate.
  • The Hill’s Daniel Strauss looks at how Rick Santorum is positioning himself for a 2016 bid.
  • Christina joined several female journalists covering the campaign at a “Noisemaker” lunch in New York last week hosted by More Magazine. Here’s the video of their discussion, which ranged from what it’s like being a woman in the press corps to the role of the candidates wives’ on the trail.


All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama is in Las Vegas for debate prep with no public events scheduled.
  • Mitt Romney attends a rally in Denver at 9:15 p.m.
  • Vice President Biden delivers remarks at the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Program Transition Ceremony at the Pentagon at 1 p.m.
  • Paul Ryan attends a rally in Dubuque, Iowa, at 7:50 p.m.
  • Ann Romney holds a rally in Henderson, Nev., at 6:40 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.

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