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25 days until Election Day

The second presidential debate moderated by ABC News' Charles Gibson is today!

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Realities and analysis headed into Beat Me in St. Louis:

A. "The Labor Department says that employers' payrolls increased by 96,000 overall in September while the unemployment rate held steady at 5.4 percent," according to the Associated Press. This is below the average estimate of 150,000 new jobs expected.

"U.S. businesses added 96,000 jobs to payrolls in September, the government reported on Friday, a weaker-than-expected total that was expected to

sharpen a presidential debate later in the day over the economy's direction," reports Reuters.

But wait … what about that benchmark revision?

"Labor also said that, according to preliminary estimates, the economy added about 236,000 more jobs than previously thought in the year ended March 2004 … ," reports Reuters.

As our ABC News colleague Betsy Stark points out, "the benchmark revision is a number which had always had the capacity to reduce the total number of jobs lost on President Bush's watch."

On the job numbers, Stark says: "This is a weak and disappointing number. Job growth needs to be around 150K a month just to keep up with population growth. This will raise questions about the strength of the recovery."

"The hurricanes probably had some impact on the September number but the Labor Department could not say how big an impact. Not enough, anyway, to change the headline here."

Stark goes on to say that "Saying 580,000 jobs lost under President Bush is not quite as powerful as Kerry's preferred 'one million.' It takes some of the sting out of it."

But the Herbert Hoover bottom line still remains true.

A statement from John Kerry calls the numbers "disappointing," and we bet Nicolle Devenish would agree.

B. With almost no exceptions, national and battleground state polls since the first presidential debate have shown improvement for Kerry. We miss the days when Bartlett/Schmidt/Gillespie/McClellan talking points could attribute any and all Kerry campaign actions and statements to desperation because of sagging poll numbers. Maybe those days will return after tonight … .

C. And/but look at what the Calming Presence tells USA Today , whose Galluping polls show close contests in Wisconsin, Colorado, and New Mexico:

"Karl Rove, Bush's top strategist, said he's not concerned about polls tightening in Wisconsin and Colorado. 'Don't forget, we lost New Mexico and Wisconsin and won Colorado in 2000. We're going to be fine,' he said." LINK

D. The New York Times Nagourney and Stevenson — reflecting a media CW about the president's campaign — write: LINK

" … (T)he scathing indictment that Mr. Bush offered of Mr. Kerry over the past two days — on the eve of the second presidential debate and with polls showing the race tightening — took … (his) attacks to a blistering new level. In the process, several analysts say, Mr. Bush pushed the limits of subjective interpretation and offered exaggerated or what some Democrats said were distorted accounts of Mr. Kerry's positions on health care, tax cuts, the Iraq war and foreign policy … ."

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