By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
EARLY LINE ON EARLY VOTING. No need to wait until Nov. 2 — more than 40 states are participating in some form of early voting this year and we’re already seeing the results. In Iowa, for example, 119,430 early votes have been cast so far, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office. That represents 13 percent of the total number of votes cast in 2006. Of this first batch, 42.1 percent were registered Democrats, 28.9 percent registered Republicans and 28.9 percent independents. “I’m just blown away by these numbers, given everything we’ve been told about the enthusiasm gap,” George Mason University political science Professor Michael McDonald said in an interview with ABC News. McDonald, an expert in voting statistics and trends, said he’s also seen some positive signs for Democrats in certain Ohio counties. “I don’t know what the heck to make out of what we’re seeing out of Iowa and Ohio,” he said. “I feel like I’m in 2008, it’s like déjà vu all over again.” If this is a national phenomenon, Professor McDonald said it would really start kicking in this weekend when more states open up early voting locations, but he cautioned that it was too early to tell exactly what it all means. For example, Iowa's Democratic Gov. Chet Culver is still is bad shape against his Republican challenger, former Gov. Terry Branstad. That’s not likely to change, but early voters could potentially help Democrats in some tight House races in the Hawkeye State.
Then again, Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro noted another trend: “Democrats lead in ballot requests, with 115,017 compared to 92,128 from Republicans — but that margin is narrower than in previous elections. Some 42,178 ballots have been requested by voters who didn't declare a party preference,” according to a dispatch from Des Moines by the Associated Press. “Democrats acknowledge their early voting lead is smaller than in previous years, but claimed their effort was better targeted on voters who are less likely to show up on Election Day.” http://bit.ly/dehSUs
MILE HIGH MATCHUP. ABC’s Jake Tapper will moderate two back-to-back debates in Colorado today. First, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet faces Republican challenger Ken Buck. Next up are the gubernatorial hopefuls, Democrat John Hickenlooper, Republican Dan Maes and American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo. TUNE IN: Watch the debates live at 1:30pm ET/ 11:30 am MT on ABC News’ Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/abcnews and on ABC News.com/Politics. http://abcnews.go.com/politics
ROCKY MOUNTAIN SCENE SETTER. The race between Michael Bennet and Ken Buck is close and a breakthrough showing by either of them at today’s debate could provide a boost. ABC’s Huma Khan has an update on the state of the race: “Buck has attacked Bennet as a Washington insider closely aligned with Obama's agenda, even though the incumbent has attempted to portray himself as an independent and more of a moderate. Bennet in turn has criticized his opponent for calling Social Security a ‘horrible policy’ — a comment that Buck later retracted — and his comments that the Department of Education isn't necessary. ‘What drives Bucks' constituencies and where he continues to hammer is that Bennet is part of the Washington establishment, votes with the president, is responsible for much of the debt we've had in the last 18 months, backed health care which he feels is too much,’ said Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli.” http://bit.ly/9FVPz2
On the gubernatorial side, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is looking good — polls show him leading by double digits. More from Khan’s preview of today’s face-off: “Tancredo quit the GOP and declared himself a candidate of the American Constitution Party despite calls from Maes and other Republicans who feared it would split the vote. The former Congress member's split did essentially divide the Republican Party, essentially paving an easy path for Hickenlooper. … Experts say if immigration were as hot of a topic as it is in some other border states, Tancredo could have the opportunity of a last-minute surge. But that's not the case in Colorado. Maes hasn't dropped out, as some Republicans had hoped, which has split the conservative base.” http://bit.ly/9FVPz2
GOP EDGE. Republicans candidates have a four percentage point advantage over Democrats among likely voters in some of the most competitive Congressional districts across the country, according to a new NPR Battleground survey released today. GOP candidates are running even with Democrats in 33 second-tier races that lean toward the Dems. More from NPR’s analysis of the fresh numbers: “The good news for Democrats is that they have improved their position in 58 of the battleground districts. In June, Democratic candidates trailed their Republican opponents in these districts by 8 points. Now, the GOP advantage is only 3 points. But, says Republican pollster Glen Bolger, the bad news for Democrats is that there are now more of their seats at risk. The battleground has expanded. … Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg sees a small, but silver lining. ‘This is still an election that it would be very hard for Democrats to hold the House with these numbers,’ Greenberg said. ‘But there is movement here and it's not trivial movement.’” http://n.pr/d2pCVH
SPREADING SECRETS. Although the U.S. Chamber of Commerce seems to be getting the bulk of the attention from senior Democrats over the anonymity of their donors, the Chamber is hardly alone, according to a report by ABC’s Jennifer Schlesigner and Devin Dwyer. “An ABC News analysis of Internal Revenue Service records finds that the Chamber is one of at least 90,908 nonprofit groups that enjoyed the same political campaigning and financial disclosure privileges in fiscal year 2009. … These nonprofit groups, including those that engage in political activities, are not required to publicly reveal the names of donors — a practice many, including liberal groups, defend. ‘It would be an administrative nightmare,’ said William Lutz, a spokesman for the group Defenders of Wildlife, responding to some critics' calls for greater disclosure. ‘The vast majority of donors are small dollar amounts not given for a specific race.’ … At the same time, at least 137,276 ‘social welfare’ nonprofits, known as 501(C)(4) groups and including the National Rifle Association and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, also enjoy similar disclosure rules and the ability to keep donors' identities private, according to IRS.”
DELAWARE CALLING. President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden head to Delaware today attend an event for Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons, who appears to be in a strong position against his rival, Christine O’Donnell. “I think it's a very important race," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at Thursday's briefing. "We understand that every vote and every race is important, and obviously this one's, sort of, near and dear to the vice president. Gibbs added that the president and vice president were “happy to” hit the campaign trail for Coons. http://bit.ly/cy1Jey
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter sit down Steve Lombardo President and CEO of Lombardo Consulting Group and Alex Isenstadt from Politico. Watch LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
TUNE IN TO “THIS WEEK”: “My grandmother would have said she has a lot of moxie,” Delaware Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons said of his opponent Christine O’Donnell in an exclusive interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour. In the interview, which will air this Sunday on “This Week,” Amanpour asked Coons what he thought his opponent's greatest strength was. "She's good on TV," he said. "She's also got a lot of persistence. I mean, she's run for the United States Senate three times in five years. That's a lot of persistence.” Watch more of the interview and get insights and analysis from our roundtable that includes Meghan McCain, political strategist Matthew Dowd, Nightline anchor Terry Moran and ABC's George F. Will on Sunday. http://abcnews.go.com/thisweek
A TALE OF TWO DEBATES. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his GOP opponent Sharron Angle took the stage in one of the most highly-anticipated events in the state’s extremely close Senate contest. What viewers and voters got was a largely lackluster performance. Politico’s Jonathan Martin, under a Las Vegas dateline, wrote that “Angle repeatedly found herself in verbal cul-de-sacs which she only escaped by returning to well-rehearsed talking points” and that Reid was “inarticulate, frequently using the parlance of the Senate.” http://politi.co/cxEHwk
Meanwhile, in Washington state, the two candidates in another tight Senate race — incumbent Sen. Patty Murray and GOP challenger Dino Rossi — squared off in a much more satisfying exchange. The Seattle Post Intelligencer summed up the night: “The federal stimulus has ‘failed’ and government must be scaled back to help kick-start the ailing economy, Dino Rossi said during a debate Thursday night in Spokane with Sen. Patty Murray, who countered that her Republican opponent wanted to hand out ‘pink slips’ to the thousands of workers in the state who have benefited from federal help. … Rossi, a former state senator who was twice the GOP candidate for governor, warned viewers that Americans could ‘wake up in a country we don't even recognize’ because of expanding government programs and increasing deficits. "We're moving down a path that's very dangerous.’ … ‘I say it's my job to fight for investments for you and your community to get you back to work again," Murray said. "My job is to make your job secure.’ http://bit.ly/bcOI3f
PALIN IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS. TLC Network has released the trailer for their new reality series with a certain former Alaska governor, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” It shows Palin and her family riding four-wheelers, hiking in the snow and dog sledding. "I'd rather be doing this than in some stuffy old political office,” Palin says in the clip “I'd rather be out here being free!” You’ll have to wait until after the midterm elections to watch the eight-week series that begins on Nov. 14.
NOTED: Palin is in the middle of a three-day campaign swing in California. She visited the Bay Area yesterday, heads to Sacramento today and will be in Anaheim on Saturday. Neither of California’s two marquee Republican women candidates – Senate contender Carly Fiorina and gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman – have plans to join Palin at any of her events in the Golden State. http://bit.ly/9CfLWO
BEYOND BOXERS OR BRIEFS. “There were no “boxers or briefs” questions at this MTV town hall,” ABC’s Sunlen Miller reports. “Rather, President Obama faced challenging, informed and thought-provoking questions over the course of his hour-long town hall MTV hosted with CMT and BET” yesterday. One highlight: “A young teacher claimed to have voted for President Obama in 2008 based on his ‘alleged commitment to equality’ for gay rights and asked why he could not just end the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy on gays in the military by executive order. ‘I am against 'don't ask, don't tell' and … we're going to end this policy,’ Obama said, ‘This is not a situation in which, with a stroke of a pen, I can simply end the policy.’ The president promised that the policy will end, ‘and it will end on my watch.’” http://bit.ly/cnI4jF
THE NUMBER: $220 Million
The amount spent by outside groups who playing a major role in the midterm election cycle. As USA Today’s Fredreka Schouten reports: “The total is roughly twice the $111 million similar groups spent at this point in the last midterm elections in 2006, an analysis by the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation shows. The money is flowing fast — nearly $80 million in the last week alone — as the political parties and their allies fight for control of Congress. … ‘We are standing at the precipice of unlimited political spending,’ said Ellen Miller, the Sunlight Foundation's executive director.” http://usat.ly/9ZJHNp
@johndickerson: After watching the Nevada Senate debate, the country should hope that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas http://slate.me/aDakTV
@ErinMcPike: The newest ad from Alaskans Standing Together pings Joe Miller for refusing to answer personal questions @ a presser this week.
@jeffzeleny: NYT's Steinhauer and Hulse tee-up a great profile of Boehner's path from Ohio to DC. His brand? Camel. Filtered. http://nyti.ms/aOXXhF
SPOTTED. At Time Magazine’s “40 Under 40” celebration at Zentan restaurant in Washington last night: West Virginia Sen. Carte Goodwin, White House speechwriter Ben Rhodes, Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock (all of whom made Time’s list of 40 young and promising politicos). Also spotted: a bevy of political and media types, including White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, personal aide to the president, Reggie Love, Time’s Richard Stengel and Michael Duffy, Freedom First PAC Communications Director Alex Conant, Yahoo’s Michael Calderone, DSCC Communications Director Eric Schultz, Politico’s Kasie Hunt and ABC’s own Rick Klein — seen leaving with two delicious cupcakes. http://bit.ly/cQCbQJ
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