We're entering a week-long stretch that even in a more predictable election year would have been consumed by coverage of the final leg of the presidential race.
But as the sprint to the finish begins, it's the massive hurricane bearing down on the East Coast, rather than the candidates' closing arguments to voters, that is going to suck all the oxygen out of the news cycle.
The storm essentially freezes the campaigns - and the race itself - in place.
WHERE THE RACE STANDS: ABC News' Political Director Amy Walter notes that it's as tight and as unpredictable as we have seen in many, many years. ABC's pollster Gary Langer notes that this race has been the closest by some measures in pre-election polls dating back to 1960, or even to the early days of polling in 1936.
The latest ABC News-Washington Post poll finds the race a statistical dead heat with Romney at 49 percent to Obama's 48 percent. On the issues, the race is also deadlocked. Romney has a small lead (50 percent to 45 percent) on who would best handle the economy while Obama has an equally narrow lead on the issue of who better understands people's economic problems (49 percent to 45 percent).
At the same time, both sides boast that they have eschewed national polling and instead are watching the battleground states. And where the race stands in battleground states is also a point of contention between the campaigns. Democrats point to public polling showing leads in key states like Ohio and Virginia, while Republicans argue that their private polling shows a dead heat.
THE FUNDAMENTALS: So, are we headed for a historic popular vote, Electoral College split? Or are we looking too closely at the trees (state by state data) and missing the forest (the underlying fundamentals)?
First, Romney's performance in the Denver debate helped wipe away the caricature that millions of dollars in attack ads had created. Lots of undecided and uncommitted voters were unhappy with President Obama but were never given a reason to support Romney. After Denver, they finally had that reason.
Second, even as voters believe that the economy or the country may be getting better, they see Romney as just as capable - or more capable - of dealing with it.
Most important, while we all hate the cliché of "it's all about turnout," assumptions about the makeup of the electorate are at the heart of why each side - and each poll - shows a very different contest.
In the ABC News-Washington Post poll, as well as some other state polling where we've been able to look at cross-tabs, we find Romney running very strong with independents. However, these independents aren't the same ones we saw in 2008 or 2010. Many, if not the majority, are disillusioned Republicans who are uncomfortable taking the GOP label, but are conservative at heart.
What does this mean? Romney can win the independent vote and still lose the election, if Obama is able to really juice up the Democratic base vote.
THE MATH: The party I.D. breakdown in the ABC News-Washington Post poll is 35 percent Democrat, 28 percent Republican and 34 percent independent. If that holds, Romney can win if he holds onto at least 95 percent of Republicans and takes more than 55 percent of the independent vote (he's taking 55 percent now). Obama wins if he captures 95 percent of Democrats and loses independents by single digits.
Keep an eye on ABC News.com for our next ABC News-Washington Post tracking poll at 5p.m. today: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/polls/
The Note's virtual political roundtable:
ABC's RICK KLEIN: It's still President Obama's map, but Mitt Romney is finding it a touch friendlier to play on than just a few days ago. Consider the data points: A new, tight poll in Minnesota that has political ramifications in nearby Iowa and Wisconsin. News that Vice President Joe Biden is going to be spending a little time in Pennsylvania before Election Day. A Des Moines Register endorsement that reads like a permission slip for disappointed Democrats and independents to join the Romney bandwagon. Romney hasn't locked down Florida or Virginia, much less Ohio, and Pennsylvania and Minnesota aren't actually in play, at least not yet. But the campaign is tighter than ever in the national vote, and it's headed in the same (closer) direction in the battlegrounds.
"THIS WEEK" REWIND - NEWT GINGRICH ON RICHARD MOURDOCK: On Sunday former GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich spoke with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week"- where he defended the controversial comments made by Indiana Senate nominee Richard Mourdock, in which he suggested that pregnancies resulting from rape were "intended" by God. Gingrich said that the Indiana Republican Senate candidate's words reflected the position of "virtually every Catholic" in the United States. "My response is, if you listen to what Mourdock actually said, he said what virtually every Catholic and every fundamentalist in the country believes, life begins at conception," Gingrich told George. "Now, this seems to be fixated by the Democrats, but the radical on abortion is Obama, who as a state senator voted three times in favor of allowing doctors to kill babies in the eighth and ninth month who were born, having survived late-term abortion." Gingrich appeared on "This Week" following Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, who criticized Mitt Romney for not asking Mourdock to pull an ad featuring the GOP presidential nominee. "Just this past week we saw it, when he wouldn't take down his ad for Richard Mourdock, who had - you know, it's a now famous comment that it's God's will if a woman gets pregnant through rape. He's not willing to stand up when it matters," Cutter said. http://bitly.com/S5yj2w
THE ROUNDTABLE: The "This Week" roundtable featured ABC's George Will, The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan, PBS's Gwen Ifill, ABC News consultant and former Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee and ABC News political analyst and Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace. Topics discussed included the Electoral College path to victory without Ohio, Romney's endorsement from the Des Moines Register, and Romney's gains among women in polling. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/GBRz0b
SWING STATE SNAPSHOTS: A CLOSER LOOK AT PENNSYLVANIA AND NORTH CAROLINA. In this final week leading up to Election Day ABC News takes a closer look at the 10 battleground states that will make or break the election. The first up- the leaning states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, polling has consistently shown President Obama with a lead in Pennsylvania, but in recent weeks the size of that lead has narrowed, suggesting that the Keystone state may be more of a question mark than had previously been thought. http://bitly.com/Tjhb8v
In North Carolina, the Romney campaign has seen a ripe opportunity to pick up one of Obama's 2008 states, but polls there have shown a competitive race despite a bad state economy. Among battleground states, North Carolina's unemployment rate is second only to Nevada's. http://abcn.ws/QPzMew
with Elizabeth Hartfield ( @LizHartfield)
DEMOCRATIC SUPER PAC GOES ON THE AIR IN OHIO: For the first time this election season, the Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, is taking to the airwaves. The ad, called "Romnopoly," carries this message: "From opposing the auto recovery plan and laying off workers during his time at Bain to gutting education to pay for tax cuts to the rich, the ad runs through the many reasons that if Mitt Romney wins, the middle class will lose." It weaves in footage from some of Priorities USA's ads during the election cycle hitting Romney for his business dealings at Bain Capital. American Bridge is spending $111, 000 on television in Ohio and another $50,000 online - targeted to the Buckeye State. WATCH: http://www.americanbridgepac.org/romnopoly/
SLEEPLESS IN VEGAS: THE FINAL GRUELING DAYS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL. You may have seen reports of the president's whirlwind campaign trip across the country last week, when he visited 8 states, held 6 campaign rallies, and logged 6500 flight miles over the course of just 48 hours. We thought you might like a view from the inside of it all, from the reporters on the grueling cross country trek. In the latest episode of his ABC/Yahoo! series "Political Punch" senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper delivers just that. WATCH: http://yhoo.it/RrCiI1
OBAMA VOWS TO RESPOND 'BIG' AND 'FAST' TO HURRICANE SANDY. As East Coast residents brace for Hurricane Sandy, President Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency's headquarters yesterday afternoon to receive a briefing on the latest preparations for the storm, expected to make landfall late Monday evening reports ABC's Mary Bruce. "This is a serious and big storm," the president said in a brief statement to reporters. "You need to take this very seriously and follow the instructions of your state and local officials, because they are going to be providing you with the best advice in terms of how to deal with this storm over the coming days." The president said he was "confident" that the resources needed to respond to the storm are in place, but stressed "this hasn't hit landfall yet." http://abcn.ws/TNl9Ne
ROMNEY CAMPAIGN EYES SANDY. One of Mitt Romney's senior advisers said on Sunday that despite impending wall-to-wall news coverage dedicated to Hurricane Sandy, he feels confident that voters in the key swing states in the region have received enough information ahead of the election and reiterated the campaign's focus on the safety and well being for those in the storm's path, reports ABC's Emily Friedman and Shushannah Walshe. "For people that are living in these states that are going to be impacted you know they're trying to get as much information about what they can do to keep their families and their properties safe," said senior adviser Kevin Madden when asked about the potential that storm coverage could make it harder for the campaign to get their message out to voters in the crucial final days before the election. "And I think that's an important priority for them." http://abcn.ws/U7X7Ha
BIDEN SAYS SAFETY, NOT CAMPAIGN, TOPS AS SANDY APPROACHES. Vice President Joe Biden modified his campaign schedule mid-trip Sunday as many battleground states along the East Coast brace for the impact of Hurricane Sandy reports ABC's Arlette Saenz. With less than two hours in Manchester, Biden stopped by a campaign field office to greet volunteers and expressed concern for New Hampshire as the storm heads towards the Granite State. As he shook hands with voters outside the campaign field office, reporters asked Biden about the storm affecting voters. "Well I hope it is not going to affect voters on Election Day," Biden said. http://abcn.ws/QOKbHr
GAY MARRIAGE, POT, IMMIGRATION AMONG BALLOT ISSUES ON ELECTION DAY. The choice between President Obama and Mitt Romney isn't the only one voters will be making on Nov. 6. Dozens of state-wide ballot questions will be posed to voters, and their implications could reverberate across state lines. Some of the hot button topics being voted on include same-sex marriage referendums, legalizing marijuana, and immigration laws. ABC's Abby Phillip takes a look at some of the most noteworthy legal measures being voted on across the country. http://abcn.ws/SrYMtN
IN OHIO, ROMNEY URGES SUPPORTERS TO PERSUADE DEMOCRATS. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan wrapped up a three-stop bus tour of the Northwestern part of this critical state over the weekend, striking a bipartisan tone with the top of the ticket urging the crowd to talk to their friends who may have cast a ballot for a Democrat in the past reports ABC's Shushannah Walshe and Emily Friedman. "Your friends may have voted last time, perhaps in the Democratic primary, they may have voted for who knows? They may have voted for Hillary Clinton or they may have voted for Barack Obama, they may have voted for then-candidate Obama in the final election," Romney, standing next to his running mate, told the crowd of about 5,000 on Sunday. Romney continued, telling supporters in this reliably red county which John McCain won four years ago by ten points, he needed their help convincing those who may still be undecided. http://abcn.ws/WU1FqV
ABC'S MATT DOWD: LET'S HAVE A POST-ELECTION PEACE ACCORD. ABC political analyst Matt Dowd writes: "For more than 230 years we have called ourselves the United States of America, but we are fast becoming the Divided States of America. In this incredibly tight election, there are a few things we know. Whatever the results are, they will show an incredibly polarized electorate. Nearly 95 percent of the partisan bases of each party will vote for their candidate. And because the election will be extremely close, the victor likely will have little mandate to govern and little cooperation from the opposite party in Congress. What can we do? How can we again become the United States of America, and bridge the great divides that seem to exist at all levels? It is the biggest problem that I believe is facing the country, because without solving it, we can't really solve any other problems. To start on a path towards a solution it is up to all of us individually, as well as the two parties and presidential candidates." http://abcn.ws/RqviLq
DEMOCRATS HOLD EARLY VOTING ADVANTAGE. Bloomberg's John McCormick reports: "Almost 14 million people have already cast ballots nationwide, according to the United States Elections Project at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Both parties are spinning their versions of what the turnout means, as they seek to project momentum in a contest where more than a third of the nation's vote is likely to be cast before the Nov. 6 election. "The data are confirming what we are seeing in the polling, which is that these state races are going to be narrower than in 2008," said Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason who studies early voting. The popularity of early voting is growing nationally, so Republicans and Democrats alike are seeing increased activity from four years ago. Both parties are working to bank as many votes as possible so they can focus on late-deciders and others in the final week. Republicans say they're placing their greatest emphasis on low-propensity voters less likely to show up on Election Day." http://bloom.bg/UXuO3J
NOTED: BREAKING DOWN THE EARLY VOTE IN VIRGINIA. The Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman takes a closer look at the early voting numbers in Virginia: "The Commonwealth doesn't register voters by political party, but looking at the numbers in Obama localities from 2008, Wasserman notes that there's a .6% uptick from '08. McCain localities from 2008 are also seeing an uptick- up 8.3% from 2008. The RNC and the Romney campaign has put more of a focus on the early voting in this cycle than McCain did in 2008, so the larger uptick on their side is likely a function of the new focus. However, troubling for the Obama campaign; in Obama's two best counties from 2008- Arlington and Fairfax- there's a downtick- Arlington is down 14.8% from '08, Fairfax is down 9.4%. In McCain's best county in 2008- Hanover- there's a 15.5% uptick at this time."
OBAMA'S PROBLEM WITH INDEPENDENTS. The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza reports: "President Obama has a problem with independents. And it's not a small problem. In the last three releases of the tracking poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, Obama has trailed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among independent voters by between 16 and 20 percentage points. That's a striking reversal from 2008, when Obama won independent voters, who made up 29 percent of the electorate, by eight points over Sen. John McCain of Arizona. And if Romney's large margin among independents holds, it will be a break not just from 2008 but also from 2000 and 2004." http://wapo.st/TOBU4H
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-BROWN CAMPAIGN RELEASES NEW TV AD: "THE CHOICE." With a little more than a week to go until Election Day, Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown released a new TV ad this morning painting a stark contrast between himself as his Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren. Titled "The Choice," the 30 second spot begins by pointing out that Brown was rated one of the most bipartisan senators and in contrast, calls Warren "fiercely partisan." The ad goes on to list off several areas of policy disagreement with the two candidates. WATCH: http://bit.ly/PBqUwt
@mckaycoppins : The new leaked Mother Jones video is like a disappointing sequel to 47%. Nothing we haven't heard before from Romney http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/10/romney-fundraiser-obama-business-evil …
with ABC's Joanna Suarez:
-President Barack Obama will return to Washington DC after canceling his appearance at an Orlando, FL rally. President Bill Clinton will still attend the event.
-Mitt Romney will hold events in Avon Lake, OH and Davenport, IA before ending the day in West Allis, WI
-Vice President Joe Biden will campaign with former President Bill Clinton in Youngstown, OH
-Paul Ryan will be in Florida, with stops in Fernandina Beach, Melbourne and Lakeland.
-First Lady Michelle Obama will meet with supporters in Iowa City and Sioux City, IA
-Ann Romney will attend campaign events in Traverse City and Grand Rapids, MI
-Dr. Jill Biden will visit local field offices in Colorado
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar : http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV