On Debate Eve, A Dead Heat (The Note)

David Goldman/Eric Gay/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )


  • OBAMA TO GET AGGRESSIVE: After his lackluster performance at the first presidential debate, President Obama is making some "adjustments" and will be more "aggressive" in his second face-off with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said Sunday, according to ABC's Mary Bruce. "Nobody's a harsher critic than the president is of himself and he viewed the [debate] tape," Axelrod said on "Fox News Sunday." "I think he's going to make some adjustments on Tuesday." Axelrod would not detail any strategic changes that the president might be making, but said he's "going to be aggressive in making the case for his view of where we should go as a country." http://abcn.ws/WkO3TM
  • DEBATE EXPECTATIONS: Ahead of the second debate, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina penned a memo outlining 13 issues on which he says Mitt Romney will try to moderate his positions, ABC's Devin Dwyer notes. "As he prepares for Tuesday's debate, there's no doubt he's memorizing more deceptions to hide the 'severely conservative' positions he's been running on," Messina wrote. FULL MEMO: http://bit.ly/XcXyE2
  • REMEMBERING ARLEN SPECTER: Arlen Specter, the former senator from Pennsylvania who stunned both parties on Capitol Hill in 2009 when he announced he would switch his party allegiance to Democrat after 42 years as a Republican, died yesterday, ABC's Sunlen Miller and Matt Larotonda report. At the age of 82 Specter died at his Philadelphia home from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The former senator's battle with cancer had been long. In addition to the removal of a brain tumor, he was diagnosed and underwent chemotherapy for Hodgkin's disease in 2005, only to undergo treatment again when it resurfaced in 2008. "Arlen Specter was always a fighter," President Obama said in a statement. "From his days stamping out corruption as a prosecutor in Philadelphia to his three decades of service in the Senate, Arlen was fiercely independent - never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve. He brought that same toughness and determination to his personal struggles, using his own story to inspire others." http://abcn.ws/QGJhfh WATCH ABC's Jonathan Karl's "World News" report on Specter's passing: http://abcn.ws/T3dwBT
  • BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE VP DEBATE: In the latest episode of his ABC/Yahoo! series "Political Punch" ABC's sSenior White House correspondent Jake Tapper went behind the scenes of the vice presidential debate and interviewed the moderator herself, ABC's Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz on location in Kentucky. The advice Raddatz received from her family and colleagues before the debate? "Be yourself" she told Tapper. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/Pvze0r
  • COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION DAY: There are 22 days to go until Nov. 6, 2012. Here are the ABC News battleground state rankings: http://abcn.ws/OovnMp


The stakes for tomorrow night's presidential debate keep getting higher.

The results of a new ABC News-Washington Post poll released this morning, on the eve of the second of three face-to-face meetings between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, shows a race that, just over 20 days out, is as about as close as they come.

Nationally, likely voters are split - with 49 percent who say they would vote for Obama compared to 46 percent who say they would vote for Romney if the election were today. The three-point difference is within the survey's margin of error. http://abcn.ws/TrC41H

Two big headlines from the poll, according to ABC News Pollster Gary Langer:

  • Strong enthusiasm among Romney's supporters has soared from 26 percent five months ago to 59 percent in today's poll, including an 11-point gain in just the past two weeks. In fact, enthusiasm for Romney is a whopping 30 points higher than for Republican presidential candidate John McCain four year ago.
  • Although half of registered voters - 42 percent -say the country is headed in the "right direction," that number is up by 13 percentage points since late August. The "right direction" number is no worse now than it was at about this time in 2004, when George W. Bush overcame majority discontent to win a second term. Similarly, Obama's job approval rating, 50 percent among all adults, matches Bush's then.

As ABC News Political Director Amy Walter points out, the real message of the poll is this:

Romney's performance at the first debate in Denver fired up his base and gave wavering voters a reason to take a second look.

But, improvement in voters perception of the economy - and the fact that they don't think Romney would provide better stewardship of it (likely voters divide, 48-47 percent, on which candidate they trust more to handle the economy, Obama or Romney) - means that the Romney's campaign's overwhelming focus on fiscal issues may prove to be a mistake.

"Rising enthusiasm and declining anxiety mark an energy boost among Mitt Romney's supporters since he prevailed in the first presidential debate," Langer notes. "But a persistent sense he'd favor the wealthy, combined with easing discontent with the nation's direction, provide a retort for Barack Obama, raising the stakes for their second showdown this week." http://abcn.ws/TrC41H



The Note's virtual roundtable:

ABC's RICK KLEIN: Who's excited now? Whether it's the debate fallout or the harsh focus October brings, President Obama has ceded a critical metric to his rival. Mitt Romney's supporters are now more strongly enthusiastic than the president's, by four points. More tellingly, Romney supporters are twice as likely to express strong enthusiasm for their candidate than John McCain supporters were four years ago. In a race where we won't really know who will vote until after they do so, this question of engagement and excitement - long a presumed Obama advantage - is up for grabs.


From ABC News Pollster Gary Langer ( @LangerResearch)

THE BATTLEGROUNDS: The poll finds likely voters in nine battleground states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin) dividing by 51-46 percent, Obama-Romney. In the states rated as strong for Obama it's 56-39 percent; in those seen as strong for Romney, he leads by an almost identical 55-39 percent.

ANXIETY ATTACK: The number of Romney supporters who feel anxious about how he'd perform as president has eased by 9 points since late August, to 53 percent. Anxiety among Obama's supporters about how he'd handle a second term has followed a different path - 53 percent six weeks ago, 58 percent now. Anxiety about Obama is now numerically greater than it is about Romney, again a first this season.

MAIN ST. VS. WALL STREET: Fifty-seven percent of likely voters, that Romney would do more as president to favor the wealthy than the middle class. Sixty-eight percent, in contrast, think Obama has favored the middle class.

WHO DO YOU LOVE? Romney's weaker than Obama in ratings of honesty and trustworthiness, and continues to trail in economic empathy and personal likeability alike, the latter by a 2-1 margin. Romney's about even with Obama on two other attributes, strong leadership and - fundamental to their campaign arguments - having a better sense of the right size and role of government.

GROUND GAME: The campaigns themselves are playing a strong role in voter reach-out: Twenty-five percent of registered voters say they've been contacted by Obama's campaign, 21 percent by Romney's. That puts Romney closer to Obama in get-out-the-vote contacts than McCain was in 2008. However, Obama's effort looks to be better targeted: Among registered voters who've been contacted by his campaign, 68 percent support him. Among those who've heard from the Romney campaign, fewer, 53 percent, are Romney supporters.

COUNTDOWN TO NOV. 6: Just 67 percent of likely voters say they plan to vote on Election Day; 32 percent instead say they'll vote early (including 2 percent who've already voted). Among those who plan to vote early, Obama holds the advantage, 54-43 percent, underscoring the particular importance of early turnout to his campaign. In ABC/Post polling in 2008, he won early voters even more widely, by 58-40 percent.

OH CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: On the lighter side, today's survey also asked which candidate registered voters would rather have as captain of a ship in a storm (suggesting skill under duress), babysit their child (caring and responsibility), work as their employee (reliability) and which they think would be more apt to go bungee jumping (fun for some, risk-taking to others). There's been some change: Preference on the "captain" question has tightened from +12 Obama two weeks ago to an insignificant +4 Obama now, possibly reflecting Romney's debate performance; but "babysitter" has moved from an even split to +13 Obama, possibly because he was seen as more soothing or less confrontational in the first debate.

All the poll's findings: http://abcn.ws/TrC41H


BEAU BIDEN DEFENDS FATHER'S DEBATE PERFORMANCE. Beau Biden, son of Joe and Attorney General of Delaware defended his father's performance at the Vice Presidential debate in an interview with ABC's Jake Tapper this Sunday on "This Week." "I'm happy to defend my dad. I don't think he needs any defensiveness. Any time the other side - Karl Rove or folks on the far right - are going after my father for smiling too much, you know that's a victory," Beau Biden told me this morning on "This Week." "My father spoke clearly to the American people about the facts, and you saw him do that for 90 minutes straight." "This isn't, Jake, about how much my father smiled or how many gallons of water that the congressman drank nervously on that stage," Biden quipped. "It's about talking directly to the American people about very important facts." Biden charged Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan with not being "up to speed on foreign policy," criticizing Ryan for his comments during the debate on troop levels in Afghanistan. http://abcn.ws/RtSH0v

ROB PORTMAN: ROMNEY 'PROBABLY' COULD WIN ELECTION WITHOUT OHIO. Ohio Senator and Romney debate coach Rob Portman was also interviewed on "This Week" this Sunday, where he told Jake Tapper that Romney could 'probably' win the White House without a victory in the Buckeye state- a feat that no other Republican has accomplished. "Look, you can probably win the presidency without Ohio, but I wouldn't want to take the risk. No Republican has. And we're doing great in Ohio," Portman said. "If you look at the average of all the polls, it's about dead-even in Ohio right now. And importantly, the momentum's on our side. It's been terrific." Portman also told Tapper expects Obama to "come out swinging" in this second debate. "Well, I think you're right. I think President Obama is going to come out swinging. I think he's going to have to compensate for a poor first debate, and I think that'll be consistent with what they've been doing this whole campaign, Jake, which is running a highly negative ad campaign" Portman said. http://abcn.ws/RXC9xa

DO PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES CHANGE ELECTIONS? "This Week" also featured a special panel discussion, in partnership with the University of Virginia's Miller Center, that tackled the question "Do Presidential Debates Change Elections?" ABC's Jake Tapper moderated the panel, and he was joined by ABC's Martha Raddatz, moderator of last week's Vice Presidential debate, ABC's George Will, ABC News contributor Donna Brazile, presidential historian Richard Norton Smith, former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, both of whom are former presidential candidates. http://abcn.ws/GBH64T


with Elizabeth Hartfield ( @LizHartfield)

MOVE ON ENLISTS STAR POWER TO CALL OUT ROMNEY ON WOMEN'S ISSUES. Actors Scarlett Johansson, Eva Longoria, and Kerry Washington star in a new television ad , from MoveOn.org, that hits Mitt Romney for his stances on women's issues. According to a press release from the group: "In the ad, produced and directed by acclaimed actor/director Rob Reiner and his wife Michele Reiner and released by MoveOn.org Political Action, the stars note that Romney pledged to end funding for Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade, and they tie Romney to his party's stance on women's reproductive health, including recent efforts to redefine rape and require invasive vaginal ultrasounds. These issues were not addressed in the first presidential debate, and during the vice presidential debate, Rep. Paul Ryan appeared to contradict his own ticket's positions. The ad seeks to make the choice clear." WATCH: http://bit.ly/PxpjHs

OBAMA, ROMNEY TAKE TIME OFF TRAIL FOR DEBATE PREP. ABC's Jake Tapper and Mary Bruce report, President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney are taking time off the campaign trail to prep for Tuesday's presidential debate, a sign of the importance of their second face-off, which comes just three weeks before Election Day. Obama is spending three days huddled with advisers in the battleground state of Virginia, hunkering down at the luxury Kingsmill Resort along the James River in historic Williamsburg. Romney, meanwhile, is preparing in the Boston area. http://abcn.ws/RIBa1N

NOTED: TOP SEVEN WACKY MOMENTS OF TOWN HALL DEBATES. In anticipation of Tuesday's town hall style debate, ABC's Amy Bingham takes a look back at some of the most awkward, candid and unexpected moments in presidential town hall debate history. If history is any guide, Tuesday's free-flowing setup is sure to produce some memorable moments. http://abcn.ws/TrPkUc

OBAMA TEAM PROMISES 'INTERESTING DEBATE.' ABC's David Kerley and Nehemiah Mekonnen report, President Obama is once again engaged in intense debate preparation at his resort in Williamsburg, Va., getting ready for his rematch with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. "I'm not going to get into details about strategic changes that he might make. But I just encourage you to watch and show up. I think it will be an interesting debate," Obama senior campaign strategist David Axelrod said. http://abcn.ws/RszTLO

REPUBLICANS OUTSPENT DEMOCRATS ON TV ADS, BUT HAVE FEWER ADS TO SHOW FOR IT. ABC's political director Amy Walter reports, data from Kantar Media's CMAG, an ad tracking firm, showed that during the week of Oct. 4-Oct. 11 Mitt Romney, the RNC and Republican outside groups combined to outspend President Obama and his allies on on TV ads by about $5 million - $31.6 million to $28.05 million. Even so, the Democrats had more about 5,000 more ads on television. How is this possible? Rules covering campaign spending mandate that candidates are able to buy air time cheaper than outside groups. Almost all the advertising bought by Democrats was purchased by the Obama campaign, while more than half of the GOP spending was by outside groups like SuperPACs. http://abcn.ws/RoBulz

RYAN'S ROLE IN A ROMNEY ADMINISTRATION. The Wall Street Journal's Patrick O'Connor reports: "Mr. Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, said a Romney administration would be able to work with Democrats to pass a tax overhaul, including Mr. Romney's plan for a 20% reduction in individual tax rates. But he said the GOP ticket wouldn't detail which tax breaks it wanted to scale back in order to prevent the tax cut from adding to the deficit, and that it was sufficient for Mr. Romney to lay out general principles. 'We shouldn't be negotiating the details of tax reform in the middle of a campaign,' Mr. Ryan said in his first interview with a national newspaper since he debated Vice President Joe Biden last Thursday. The Wisconsin congressman also said that Mr. Romney had asked him to take on the role of working with Congress on fiscal matters if he is elected vice president." http://on.wsj.com/Pxhemj

PORTMAN DEFENDS ROMNEY'S USE OF LIBYA ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL. ABC's Jake Tapper reports, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio defended GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney this morning on "This Week" for his use of the deadly incident in Libya to criticize President Obama on the campaign trail. Tapper asked Portman about this after the father of killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens told Bloomberg it would be "abhorrent" to make his son's death a campaign issue. "He didn't say it was a campaign issue. He said it was an issue. I mean, it's something the American people are really concerned about, Jake. And, look, you've been on top of this. I've seen some of the tough questions you've been asking the White House on it," Portman said. http://abcn.ws/SUosjs

GOP FIGHTING LIBERTARIAN'S SPOT ON THE BALLOT. "When he was running for the Republican presidential nomination last year, Gary Johnson, the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, drew ridicule from mainstream party members as he advocated legalized marijuana and a 43 percent cut in military spending," reports The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg. "Now campaigning as the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee, Mr. Johnson is still only a blip in the polls. But he is on the ballot in every state except Michigan and Oklahoma, enjoys the support of a few small 'super PACs' and is trying to tap into the same grass-roots enthusiasm that helped build Representative Ron Paul a big following. And with polls showing the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney to be tight, Mr. Johnson's once-fellow Republicans are no longer laughing." http://nyti.ms/QGLMOC

MODERATOR UNDER SCRUTINY AHEAD OF SECOND DEBATE. Time's Mark Halperin reports: "While an early October memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns and the bipartisan commission sponsoring the debates suggests CNN's Candy Crowley would play a limited role in the Tuesday-night session, Crowley, who is not a party to that agreement, has done a series of interviews on her network in which she has suggested she will assume a broader set of responsibilities. As Crowley put it last week, 'Once the table is kind of set by the town-hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, 'Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y, Z?" In the view of both campaigns and the commission, those and other recent comments by Crowley conflict with the language the two campaigns agreed to, which delineates a more limited role for the moderator of the town-hall debate." http://ti.me/RYA9F5

POLITICO/GWU POLL: ROMNEY MORE LIKEABLE. "A new POLITICO-George Washington University Battleground poll of likely voters puts Obama ahead of Romney 49 percent to 48 percent, a statistical tie and the same as the week before," Politico's James Hohhman notes. "Across the 10 states identified by POLITICO as competitive, Romney leads 50 percent to 48 percent. Even as the head-to-head number held stubbornly steady for the past month, Romney improved his likability numbers. A slim majority, 51 percent, now views Romney favorably as a person, while 44 percent view him unfavorably." http://politi.co/T3GYb1

CLINTON ON BENGHAZI: 'TO THIS DAY WE DO NOT HAVE A COMPLETE PICTURE.' ABC's Dana Hughes and Zach Wolf report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the early response from the Obama administration on Friday regarding the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. But she would not weigh in on the growing controversy about when exactly members of the Obama administration knew the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate was carried out by terrorists or whether senior administration members knew that State Department security officials were concerned about the situation at the embassy in the months leading up to the attack. Secretary Clinton said that State Department is in the beginning stages of an internal investigation on the attack. She said the FBI investigation is continuing as well, and that she is cooperating with both. "There is much we still don't know, and I am the first to say that," she said. http://abcn.ws/TPJzoF


-ABC's RICK KLEIN GOES HOLLYWOOD. "The third episode of the web-based series "Chasing the Hill" includes appearances by some of the nation's most recognizable political figures and news personalities, including ABC's own Rick Klein. Klein plays a debate moderator in the latest installment, which also features former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and former California Governor Gray Davis. Some scenes for this episode were shot in Charlotte during the Democratic National Convention. Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe also appears. BACKSTORY: "Chasing the Hill" follows the reelection campaign of a Democratic representative from California, played by Emmy-nominee Robin Weigert (HBO's Deadwood) struggling to fend off a primary challenge and is aided by powerful political operative Charlie Kowles, played by Emmy-winning actor Richard Schiff (The West Wing). Check it out: http://chasingthehill.com/

-ACTUALLY, MITT…. The Democratic super PAC American Bridge is partnering with the Jewish Council for Education and Research (which produced the Sarah Silverman, "Great Schlep" video, among others) to launch the site, Actually.org. What's it all about? According to the site: "When lies go unchecked, we all lose. Actually.org spreads the truth, because the truth matters-even in politics. Our team calls 'em like they see 'em, and we hope you'll support the truth by sharing Actually.org videos before Election Day." Today the two organizations are releasing their first video in a series featuring Rosie Perez taking Romney to task over his "joke" about wishing he were Mexican. WATCH: http://youtu.be/EVIrNxba0ls


@JesseFFerguson : Hotline: "DCCC Outraises NRCC in September" http://bit.ly/QnnbPx

@MichaelLaRosaDC : Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial: Farewell to a fighter http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/inquirer/174124661.html … #ArlenSpecter #Hardball

@SalenaZitoTrib : With no wave and no coatails for the Democrats the House projected to stay in Republican control. THIS -> (my story) http://triblive.com/usworld/2760616-74/democrats-seats-democratic-majority-obama-won-kondik-republican-congress-congressional …

@BuzzFeedBen : Incredibly proud to have this important revision of the history of George Romney, by @jrboh, on @buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/johnrbohrer/making-mitt-the-myth-of-george-romney …

@kenvogel : How Wall Street made Paul Ryan: @rbravender explains how the VP candidate turned budget wonkery into campaign cash: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1012/82360.html …

@lbw622 : Gotta Vote Bus: Politicians Rally Volunteers in Mount Vernon http://mountvernon.patch.com/articles/photos-politicians-rally-volunteers-in-mount-vernon#photo-11717541 …


with ABC's Joanna Suarez

-President Barack Obama is in Williamsburg, Va. for debate prep

-Mitt Romney will spend the day in Belmont, MA where he will also continue to prepare for Tuesday's debate

-Vice President Joe Biden has no campaign events scheduled.

-Rep. Paul Ryan will attend campaign events in Waukesha, Wisc. and Cincinnati, Ohio.

-First Lady Michelle Obama will address supporters at grassroots events in Delaware and Cleveland, OH

-Ann Romney will hold a rally in Elizabethtown, Pa.

Check out The Note's Futures Calendar : http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV

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