The Note: The Gambler

Even tighter in the new Wall Street Journal/NBC numbers: Obama 48, McCain 46. "The race between Barack Obama and John McCain remains a dead heat, despite financial turmoil that has turned the nation's attention to economic issues that tend to favor the Democratic presidential candidate," the Journal's Laura Meckler writes.

Politico's Mike Allen drills down into the states: "State by state, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill). is showing signs of breaking open a presidential race that looked deadlocked through much of September. A new wave of polls released Wednesday showed decisive leads for Obama in the critical states of Colorado, Michigan and Pennsylvania. That follows noticeable progress in polls in Virginia, which had looked safe for Sen. John McCain, and Florida, which had looked promising for McCain."

Debate advice, from Karl Rove: "Mr. McCain needs to come across as optimistic, loose and likable. He must guard against revealing his lack of respect for Mr. Obama. And he must grab the 'change' banner from Mr. Obama by describing a few things he'll do internationally that are new and different," Rove writes in his Journal column. "Mr. Obama's task is to look like a credible commander in chief. Right now, too many people lack confidence that he's up to the most important of presidential responsibilities. Mr. Obama must avoid the pervasive sense of nuance that weakened his performance at the Saddleback Forum."

The stakes: "A debate tie goes to the frontrunner. With that now being Mr. Obama by a slim margin, Mr. McCain must emerge the clear winner, or his prospects of being the next president will dim," Rove writes.

What happened to the big, bold campaign? "Six weeks before Election Day, a day before the first scheduled debate, the forces of innovation and authenticity are being routed by the forces of conventionality and cliché," John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei write for Politico. "Part of the answer is that Obama and McCain are more timid and less creative figures than they looked to be a year ago. The larger story is that the incentives in American politics rewarding politics as usual -- especially in our own business, the media -- are far more powerful than either candidate's tentative and inconsistent impulses to challenge politics as usual."

The Sked:

McCain's 8:45 am ET speech before the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City is still on. Obama gets his turn via satellite from Florida at 10 am ET.

Then it's on to Washington for both candidates, for the big meeting at the White House at 4 pm ET.

Joe Biden campaigns in Greensburg and Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Also in the news:

Fresh from the Fannie and Freddie files: "Rick Davis, John McCain's campaign manager, has remained the treasurer and a corporate director of his lobbying firm this year, despite repeated statements by campaign officials that he had ended his relationship with the firm in 2006, according to corporate records," Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reports.

Cumulative impact? "New reports that a company owned by John McCain's campaign manager received a $15,000 monthly stipend from a major mortgage firm at the center of the credit crisis are clouding the Arizona senator's effort to portray himself as a Wall Street reformer," Stephen Braun writes in the Los Angeles Times.

Davis and "friends" star in a new ad running on national cable starting Thursday, a $100,000 buy that also blasts the bailout bill as a Wall Street handout.

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