Though the last two weeks' political headlines have been dominated by a major foreign policy crisis - and its subsequent fallout on the campaign trail - and a hidden-camera video that captured Mitt Romney at his most candid, it's unclear whether either media fixation will matter all that much in the places where this election will be won or lost.
Places like Fairfax Station, Va. where, as ABC's Amy Walter reported earlier this week, Mary Barker, a 60-year-old retired school librarian simply won't commit to voting for President Obama on Nov. 6 like she did four years ago.
Barker and other swing voters from northern Virginia who took part in a focus group sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said she believed the economy was improving, but didn't give Obama much credit for it. And when asked what she thought of the president's speech at the Democratic National Convention just a few weeks ago, she told moderator Peter Hart, "I wanted to be inspired, but I wasn't. Where's the beef. Something was missing." http://abcn.ws/Rv2nDA
Voters are singing a similar tune in other parts of the country, and in particular, the battleground states that will ultimately tip the scale for either Obama or Romney on Election Day.
Take Wisconsin. Obama has the support of 50 percent of likely voters there compared to 45 percent who are backing Romney, according to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll. Recall that a Republican presidential candidate has not won the state since 1984 and that four years ago Obama beat then GOP challenger John McCain by a solid 56 percent to 42 percent margin.
"President Obama has a narrow lead in a state he handily carried last time," Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion said. "There is slightly greater enthusiasm of Romney backers over Obama supporters, but it's not enough to tip the scales in Romney's direction."
And that's the rub for Romney. It's not just Wisconsin where the latest polling shows him trailing the president - it's almost all the other key swing states too.
Yesterday's NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll found Obama ahead of Romney by five percentage points, 50 percent to 45 percent, among likely voters in Colorado and by eight percentage points in Iowa where Obama's lead stands at 50 percent to 42 percent over his Republican challenger.
And a series of CBS News-New York Times-Quinnipiac University polls out last week also gave Obama the edge in Wisconsin and Colorado as well as Virginia where Mary Barker is still making up her mind.
The next few weeks are shaping up to be a race to the battlegrounds with Romney's campaign vowing a new strategy that includes a more intense pace on the campaign trail. The GOP candidate campaigns in Nevada this afternoon and will head to Colorado this weekend to hold his first public campaign event there since early August.
And for both candidates, there is little time to spare: Absentee ballots have already been mailed out in North Carolina and early voting starts today in South Dakota and Idaho. The first debate - held in hotly-contested Colorado - is just 12 days away and Election Day is only about six weeks off.
ABC's AMY WALTER: Mitt Romney may have cash flow troubles, but in the battleground state ad wars, Romney and the GOP super PACs are either spending as much or more than Team Obama. The question now is whether Romney and company have the money and infrastructure for the other critical components of the campaign like get-out-the-vote efforts and early vote chasing?
ABC's RICK KLEIN: In a campaign not noted for its subtlety, we nonetheless have a new nominee for pander of the year. President Obama, pressed to name his biggest failure at the Univision forum yesterday, actually answered that question presidents never engage on - and told the crowd exactly what it wanted to hear. "As you remind me, my biggest failure so far is we haven't gotten comprehensive immigration reform done," the president said. Of course, though, the president simultaneously blamed Republicans for that failure, like the job interview where the candidate's biggest weakness is secretly a strength.
GOP STRATEGY: GO WEST. With polls showing Mitt Romney locked in tight races with President Obama in Colorado and Nevada, the Republican National Committee - in conjunction with the Romney campaign - is beefing up its operation in the two western battlegrounds. GOP officials tell ABC News that the RNC is "adding additional staff" in both states - some of whom are being re-assigned from their posts in New Mexico (though the officials noted they "are maintaining offices and staff" there.) ABC News rates New Mexico as solidly Democratic. "The GOP Victory team is bolstering our organizations in the key battlegrounds of Colorado and Nevada, two places where the president is hemorrhaging support thanks to his failed economic policies. We are reallocating a few staff members from New Mexico where we will maintain staff and victory offices through November," Republican National Committee spokesman Tim Miller told ABC News. Colorado voted for Obama in 2008, but went with the Republican presidential candidate in all but one (1992) of the nine previous presidential elections dating back to 1972.
ADVICE FOR ROMNEY: The well-respected former Colorado GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams served up some advice for Romney in an interview on Wednesday with Denver's Fox affiliate: "I think Mitt Romney needs to be here," Wadhams said, referring to the greater Denver area, "and he needs to be in the Jefferson County and Arapahoe County suburbs, not in Pueblo." (Romney will campaign in Denver on Sunday.) http://abcn.ws/S7I3YK
DATA POINTS: GOP sources tell ABC they have already "passed the 1 million voter contact mark" in both Colorado and Nevada. In Nevada, Republicans say they have made "4 times more phone calls and 12 times more door knocks than this time in 2008? and in Colorado: "4 times more phone calls and 6 times more door knocks than this time" four years ago. Other data points the Republicans cite: A 12 percent unemployment rate in Nevada and an 8.3 percent unemployment rate in Colorado where some 224,000 residents are out of work. The Romney campaign has also been on the air with television ads in both states. http://abcn.ws/S7I3YK
IN THE MONEY. For the first time in several months presidential and super PAC financial disclosure reports - released yesterday - favored Obama and his allies. The pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action outraised the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future for the first time ever, while the Obama campaign outraised the Romney campaign for the first time in several months. A look at the major top lines:
OBAMA CAMPAIGN/DEMOCRATS: Obama for America raised: $84.7 million. Obama Victory Fund raised $39.5 million
ROMNEY CAMPAIGN/REPUBLICANS: Romney for President raised: $86.6 million (including a $20 million loan from the bank of Georgetown.) Romney Victory Inc. files quarterly.
RESTORE OUR FUTURE: Total raised: $7 million
PRIORITIES USA ACTION: Total raised: $10.1 million
AMERICAN CROSSROADS: Total raised: $9.4 million
"WORLD NEWS" REWIND: PRESIDENT OBAMA Y MITT ROMNEY. Over the past two days Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have appeared back to back at separate "Meet the Candidate" forums hosted by Univision. Watch ABC's Jake Tapper report on each candidate's performances: http://abcn.ws/NFvurd
WHOSE CONVENTION SPEECH GOT THE MOST VIEWERS? JOE BIDEN. ABC's Arlette Saenz notes, according to analysis by Nielsen, Joe Biden's speech was the most watched during the two party conventions.
with ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield ( @LizHartfield)
CHURCH OFFICIAL PUSHES MORMON REGISTRATION IN KEY SWING STATES. ABC's Matt Mosk, Brian Ross and Lynn Packer report: In a provocative move within a religious organization that has sought to display strict political neutrality, an official of the Mormon church has disseminated a presentation across the key swing state of Nevada that urges members to vote and speak "with one voice" in the coming Presidential election that pits Mormon Mitt Romney against President Barack Obama. "Any Mormon would understand exactly what's being said there," said Randall Balmer, a Dartmouth religion professor who has studied the church's handling of Romney's presidential bids. "This is very thinly coded language." Mormon officials have permitted church leaders to encourage voting, but have stressed that it not be done in a partisan fashion. A senior church member emailed the presentation to Nevada "stake presidents" - similar to Catholic bishops - last month. The email was first reported last week by Jon Ralston, an independent Nevada journalist. http://abcn.ws/S70HQh
MORE FROM THE UNIVISION FORUM: OBAMA CALLS IMMIGRATION REFORM HIS 'BIGGEST FAILURE.' Univision's Jordan Fabian reports, President Obama appealed to Latino voters for a second term at a Univision-sponsored event today, and blamed Republicans for his failure to make good on his 2008 promise of immigration reform. Univision news anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas repeatedly grilled Obama over whether he broke his promise to bring up an immigration reform bill in his first year in office, which he made to Ramos in 2008. "My biggest failure is that we haven't gotten comprehensive immigration reform done … but it's not for lacking of trying or desire," Obama said during the event at the BankUnited Center Field House on the University of Miami campus. "I haven't gotten everything done that I want to get done," Obama added. "That's why I'm running for a second term." http://abcn.ws/RBZaaX
ANN ROMNEY TO CRITICS: 'STOP IT. THIS IS HARD.' In a radio interview on Thursday, Ann Romney stood up for her husband, directly responding to recent criticism from fellow Republicans. Iowa Radio's O. Key Henderson reports: "During an interview early this evening with Radio Iowa, Mrs. Romney directly addressed her fellow Republicans who've criticized her husband. "Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring," she said. "This is hard and, you know, it's an important thing that we're doing right now and it's an important election and it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt's qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country." The criticism and very public hand wringing from Republicans comes as national polls show the race between Romney and President Obama is essentially tied. "It's nonsense and the chattering class…you hear it and then you just let it go right by," she told Radio Iowa. "…Honestly, at this point, I'm not surprised by anything." http://bit.ly/TaOh15
LAST OF 33,000 SURGE TROOPS LEAVE AFGHANISTAN. ABC's Luis Martinez reports: The last of the 33,000 American surge troops sent to Afghanistan two years ago have left the battlefields of Afghanistan, a U.S. official confirmed. With the departure of the last of the surge troops, there are now 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan. Two years ago, President Obama announced a surge of troops to Afghanistan to help increase security amid the threat of Taliban insurgents. In announcing the deployment of 33,000 additional troops, President Obama said the surge would be temporary. http://abcn.ws/PZlnOi
SCOTT BROWN RIPS ELIZABETH WARREN OVER NATIVE AMERICAN STATUS IN DEBATE. ABC's Gregory Krieg reports: Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts put challenger Elizabeth Warren on the rack early during their debate Thursday night, assailing the Democrat for listing herself as "Native American" on law school documents early in her teaching career. "Elizabeth Warren said she was a Native American, a person of color," Brown said, gesturing toward Warren. "As you can see, she's not." The debate was the first in a series of four that will take place across the Bay State over the next 40 days. And with the latest polls showing a near-deadlock among likely voters, both candidates are counting on their performances, and the public's reaction, to swing the election their way. http://abcn.ws/OKxpGR
OBAMA TALKS 47 PERCENT WITH EDDIE VEDDER AND GOV. CHARLIE CRIST. ABC's Devin Dwyer reports, while in Florida Thursday night, President Obama spent some time hobnobbing with 85 of his wealthiest supporters, including former Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and Pearl Jam star Eddie Vedder. One of the top topics of conversation at the $20,000-per-head event, according to pool reports: Mitt Romney's recent comments on the "47 percent…." Taking the stage after Vedder's introduction, Obama said the singer's story "captures better than anything what this campaign is about and what this country is about." Obama, who earlier in the day participated in a Univision "Meet the Candidates" forum, also directly addressed the 47 percent of Americans whom Romney disparaged in a recently released secret video. http://abcn.ws/Saj1wc
WHITE HOUSE SAYS BENGHAZI CONSULATE ATTACK WAS A 'TERRORIST ATTACK.' ABC's Devin Dwyer reports, for the first time, White House press secretary Jay Carney publicly characterized the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as a "terrorist attack." "It is, I think, self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack," Carney told reporters on aboard Air Force One en route Florida. "Our embassy was attacked violently and the result was four deaths of American officials. So, again, that's self evident…" Administration officials had initially been reluctant to classify the incident as an act of terrorism, citing a pending investigation. But top U.S. counterterrorism and homeland security officials now say there are signs that the attackers may have had ties to al Qaeda. http://abcn.ws/Qoy8Sh
BIPARTISANSHIP! LEADERS FROM BOTH SIDES OF THE AISLE HAMMER INAUGURAL PLATFORM. ABC's Sunlen Miller reports, construction began today on the platform on the steps of the U.S. Capitol where either Gov. Mitt Romney or President Obama will take the oath of office in January. Bipartisan leaders from the House and the Senate marked the occasion by ceremonially hammering in the first nails to the stage which will host the next president's inauguration on January 21, 2013. The inaugural platform, which will be erected on the West Front of the Capitol Building, will seat about 1,600 people including former presidents, members of Congress, cabinet officials, joint chiefs and diplomats who look on as a candidate turns into a president while taking the oath. http://abcn.ws/Ulrmee
OBAMA 'REDISTRIBUTION' AUDIO CLIP TRUNCATED. ABC's Devin Dwyer reports, the 14 year-old audio tape circulated by the Mitt Romney campaign this week to attack Barack Obama as favoring "redistribution" of wealth was "deceptively edited," Democrats say, leaving out important context that Obama provided in his next breath. In the clip Republicans are pushing around - and Romney now cites on the stump - then Illinois State Sen. Obama is heard speaking at a university conference in October 1998, appearing to endorse "redistribution" of wealth….In the full recording, obtained by NBC News, Obama continues to explain in the next sentence that he is speaking broadly about making city and state government more efficient in their use of resources - and endorses "competition" in the "marketplace." http://abcn.ws/P3cosr
CASH LOW, ROMNEY STRIVING TO FIND NEW DONORS. The New York Times' Nicholas Confessore , Jo Craven McGinty and Derek Willis report: "Mitt Romney entered the final months of the presidential campaign with a cash balance of just $35 million, racing to find new large donors and rally low-dollar contributors in August even while he raised tens of millions of dollars for the Republican Party. Mr. Romney's campaign took in $67 million that month but also spent about that much, twice the rate of spending as in any prior month, according to reports filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission. More than half of what Mr. Romney raised in August was money he could not spend until after his party convention at the end of the month. And he grew so short of available cash that his campaign borrowed $20 million and sharply curtailed advertising, even while doling out post-convention bonuses to a handful of senior staff members. The new numbers, along with disclosures filed by major "super PACs" supporting the two candidates, challenge the appearance of financial strength that had burnished Mr. Romney over the summer, and show unexpected strengths for President Obama going into the fall." http://bit.ly/S902Ov
ANN ROMNEY TO RAISE CASH AT SHELDON ADELSON'S LAS VEGAS HOME. Bloomberg's Kate Andersen Brower reports: "First Lady Michelle Obama may have done 56 fundraisers this year, besting Ann Romney's tally of 37, but the aspiring first lady is not sitting idly by. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Ann Romney is headlining an Oct. 1 reception at the home of the biggest contributors to Republican super-political action committees: Las Vegas Sands Corp. chairman Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who have donated $36.3 million to Republican-leaning groups." http://bit.ly/PManA1
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-CA CONGRESSIONAL CONTENDER: REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS SHOULD BE GOVERNING, NOT TAKING A BREAK. California' former lieutenant Governor and current Congressional candidate Abel Maldonado penned an op-ed for The Daily Caller critcizing Republicans and Democrats for their inaction. "For two years, we have been hearing about how the partisanship and gridlock in Washington is making it impossible to get anything done. Republicans attack Democrats and Democrats attack Republicans. All the while, it's the American people who pay the price. Well, that price, the price of inaction, is about to cost us a whole lot unless the politicians in Washington get their act together" Maldonado writes. "You would think that in the face of this potentially devastating course of action, Republicans and Democrats would get their act together and start getting things done. Instead, they are planning to leave Washington at the end of the week and won't go back to work until after the November election. Imagine what would happen if you went to your boss tomorrow and said you were taking two months off while the work just piles up on your desk. That's what the politicians in Washington are about to do." http://thedc.com/S8GRnZ
@HotlineJosh : Obama spent more time in IA last month than any other state. Got lots of earned media. In small state, that makes a difference.
@waltershapiroPD : Regarding Nielsen numbers showing Biden (!) as the highest rated convention speaker, what's the margin of error for TV ratings?
@globeglen : POTPOURRI: Just saw delivery truck touting a Guinness pub-finder app. Now, if that isn't necessity and technology uniting, what is?
with ABC's Josh Haskell ( @HaskellBuzz)
-President Obama will address the AARP Life@50+ Convention via satellite from Woodbridge, Virginia. Shortly after his speech, the President will hold a campaign event at the G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge.
-Mitt Romney travels to Las Vegas, NV for a rally at UNLV. In the evening, Romney will hold a finance event in San Francisco, CA.
-Vice President Biden and Jill Biden are in New Hampshire speaking at two events in Hanover and Concord.
-Paul Ryan is in New Orleans delivering remarks at the AARP Life@50+ Convention. In the afternoon, Ryan travels to Lakeland, FL.
-First Lady Michelle Obama is on the trail in Maryland speaking to supporters at two events in Baltimore.
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar : http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV