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A battle for 7 states

By JONATHAN MARTIN | 10/23/12 4:37 AM EDT

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The two presidential campaigns are sounding sharply different notes about how they can get to 270 electoral votes, but beneath the post-debate bravado from both sides there is a rough consensus about the shape of the race in its final two weeks.

Top strategists for both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney flooded the media center following the third and final presidential debate here Monday night, and made clear they will be primarily fighting over seven states and will spend most of their time and money in them between now and Nov. 6.

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Spin room reactions

Campaigns describe final push

Obama, Romney best lines


(Also on POLITICO: 7 takeaways from final debate)

The main battlegrounds: Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida and Wisconsin. The late inclusion of Wisconsin on this list reflects a bet by Romney — buoyed by some polls showing an opportunity for him there — that he can turn a state that has not voted for a Republican presidential nominee since 1984.

Romney officials, eyeing steady gains in the polls, have not ruled out attempting to broaden the map in other states — claims met with disparagement by Obama aides, who say they remain confident their electoral college firewall is intact even amid a tightening national race and signs that three swing states in the South are looking more favorable for the GOP nominee.

Republicans are genuinely intrigued by the prospect of a strike in Pennsylvania and, POLITICO has learned, are considering going up on TV there outside the expensive Philadelphia market. But what Romney officials worry about, both in Pennsylvania and Michigan, is that if they put some cash down or use precious hours to send their candidate there Obama will respond by crushing their offensive with a big ad buy of his own.

(Also on POLITICO: 6 questions that will settle the election)

So while Boston is open to the idea of going into such traditional Democratic strongholds, it is still mostly playing within the same map the two candidates have been locked in for months. And, increasingly, it is narrowing its focus as prospects improve in North Carolina, Florida and Virginia.

“That states that we’re playing in are the states we need to win,” noted Romney strategist Russ Schriefer. “We’ll see what happens in the next two weeks. We’re going to concentrate on Ohio and Colorado and Iowa and New Hampshire.”

“We’ll be in Ohio a lot,” added Romney strategist Stuart Stevens.

The Romney campaign is already airing TV ads in Wisconsin. The former Massachusetts governor has not been to the state since he tapped Paul Ryan as his running mate in August but is headed back soon.

(Also on POLITICO: Mitt Romney: I come in peace)

“We’ll be back in Wisconsin,” said Eric Fehrnstrom. “Wisconsin is definitely in play.”

Obama officials, meanwhile, are convinced that they have a lead in Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada — and aren’t yet willing to write off Colorado, Florida and Virginia.

But senior Democrats increasingly recognize that their path to 270 electoral votes is not in the latter three but in the Midwest.

“Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio are crucial — if we win those three states, the president is reelected,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a close Obama ally.

(Also on POLITICO: Media: Obama in fighting mood)

Obama adviser Robert Gibbs put it another way, saying Romney’s fate would depend on whether he can sweep the trio of Big 10 states.

“We intend to go out and win each of the three of those states,” said Gibbs.

And Pennsylvania and Michigan? They’re not worried and aren’t likely to send Obama there.

“Probably not, no,” said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter when asked if the president would rally supporters in the two traditionally Democratic electoral troves. “We have significant resources there. We are invested in those states at a much higher level than Gov. Romney is.”

A cattle call to moderate Republicans

A cattle call to moderate Republicans

All Mitt Romney had to do to take Iowa was say the word, “passion.” That’s a joke. But, his demeanor was the most genuinely confident and triumphant it has been leading up to the caucuses in Iowa Tuesday night. Mind you, he won by the slimmest of margins. Hopefully, his razor thin victory will serve as a cattle call to moderate Republicans. Most of the articles in the wake of Romney’s victory in Iowa have been from the angle of the religious conservatives and the big fight they’re gearing up for in South Carolina. This is the time for moderate Republicans to re-frame the discussion and stand up. We’re allowing the media to dictate the terms of these elections. Not only does all that noise from the religious right turn off moderate Republicans, it allows Democrats to continue to frame Republicans as judgmental shrews. 30% of Republicans identify themselves as moderates this cycle. Time magazine called moderates, “The Silent Majority.” 2012 will hinge on moderates and Independents. Rest assured, those religious conservatives, whose voices we hear in soundbites and in Congress, long heralded as the base of the party, are not going to vote for Obama. Those are the slam dunk Republicans. The Republican party should capture this unique opportunity to redefine itself by showing how big an umbrella the party really is, by trotting out its moderate voices, and boldly going where no nominee has gone before: to the middle.  Acknowledging the variety of opinions on social issues will not only show the party is capable of building bridges but may also convince disaffected Democrats there is room for them under this umbrella, too.

You might enjoy this article in the New York Times that asks whether the Republicans are going to define themselves as the party of business, church or the tea party?

The Year of the Crab Crawl

The Year of the Crab Crawl

 There’s an expression on Wall Street to describe sideways movement in the markets during the time period between a crash and a recovery.  In article after article, financial pundits have labeled 2011 “The Year of the Crab,” because of the way crabs walk sideways across the sand. I would say it was the “Year of the Crab” in politics as well.  Republican voters moved side to side, reacting as one candidate after the other “popped” in polls, but voters stopped and shuffled instead of locking in on any one of these flavors of the month. At the end of the day, all roads seem to have led back to Romney, who is leading in the Iowa polls, one day before the caucuses there.  Of all the candidates, Romney was originally the most Moderate.  I just wish he hadn’t signed on to the anti-embryonic stem cell research movement that swept the party when he was Governor of Massachusetts, which is when Romney officially switched from being pro-choice to pro-life. Even if he wins in Iowa, the question is whether Romney can punch through the 25% ceiling in polling to make him a formidable opponent to Obama. Looking beyond this Tuesday, Newt Gingrich plans to make hay out of Romney’s earlier support for Planned Parenthood to try to reverse his own fortunes in New Hampshire.  It will be interesting to see what role abortion plays in New Hampshire, where Huntsman has focused much of his energy and efforts.  While Huntsman remains a favorite because of his record of job creation in Utah, his knowledge of foreign affairs and his creative ideas for reversing our economic misfortunes, he is the only candidate calling for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion.  He doesn’t talk about it much these days and our hope is he will stop talking about it all together or better yet, change his own mind! In the meantime, we socially liberal Republicans may have to agree this isn’t the year to get bogged down on single issues.  But it would be nice if Romney were elected, if he evolved again, and at least agreed not to overturn any laws on a woman’s right to choose.





























Romney leads in Iowa polls with Santorum rising

Gingrich complains he has been Romney-boated

Santorum needs to reach more than evangelicals

Ouch! Can Rick Perry recover?

Ouch! Can Rick Perry recover?

I have a new theory about the Republican cast of presidential characters, I mean candidates.  I’ve suspected for a while that the reason the GOP has let Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann on stage is that they make Mitt Romney look so good.  In the past, Romney just wasn’t able to light a spark with the general public.  Now as each of his competitor’s crashes and burns, Romney’s liabilities look like major assets.  Boring?  I would say stable.  Too smooth?  He’s never forgotten the names of the federal agencies he’s planning to trim.  A flip flopper?  I would say he is smart enough to evolve on positions that matter and that he isn’t someone so inflexible that he won’t admit if he’s changed his mind.   I don’t mind people evolving on issues.  At least it shows some measure of thought.  I still like Jon Huntsman (I think he’s funny. And every campaign should be punctuated by moments of wit like when he said Romney was “scared mittless.”) but there is no denying that Romney is looking absolutely presidential.  He is being totally forthright about the reality that Medicare is going to have to be reformed, he has been steadfast about the need to stop the ballooning federal debt, the fact that he wanted to insure the uninsured in Massachussets is a plus to socially liberal Republicans, and he has experience creating jobs, our country’s top priority right now.    I think a successful businessman like him might have more luck prodding businesses to use the cash they’re sitting on to create jobs than our current President who has lost his credibility on matters financial.

The GOP debate: 6 takeaways

The candidates wave before the Michigan debate. | Reuters

Answers by Cain and Romney are footnotes after Perry’s epic onstage meltdown. | Reuters Close
By MAGGIE HABERMAN | 11/10/11 1:26 AM EST Updated: 11/10/11 6:14 AM EST

In a season of memorable debates, the non-mudfest in Michigan made instant history.

Questions to Herman Cain about sexual harassment allegations and to Mitt Romney about letting banks foreclose on people’s homes were largely footnotes after Rick Perry experienced an epic onstage meltdown.

Below, six takeaways from the two-hour CNBC-sponsored event.

The “oops” heard ‘round the world

It’s hard to overstate how badly damaged Rick Perry is after the debate, one in which he overall performed more or less well — save for about 50 seconds.

That was how long it took the Texas governor to concede he couldn’t recall the third federal agency he’d eliminate as president.

In what at first seemed like light-hearted self-parody, Perry grasped desperately for agency names: “Commerce, Education and the uh…..the third agency of government I would do away with… Education, the, uh, Commerce, and…I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

Moderator John Harwood interjected at one point with, “Seriously?”

Later, on a different question, Perry said he had been searching for the Department of Energy — an agency he has no trouble remembering when he gives his stump speeches.

But the damage was done.

Twitter lit up with mocking commentary, and Perry supporters emailed that they suspect his candidacy — already reeling from self-inflicted wounds — is now being removed from the machines keeping it alive. The damage was so clear that Perry himself went to the post-debate “spin room” to own the mistake with reporters and try to make light of it (he was glad he wore his boots because “I stepped in it.”)

Indeed. His campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan told reporters and interviewers that Perry was right on “substance” if not “style,” and he took a clear, if veiled, shot at Mitt Romney as a “robot.”

It’s conceivable that reports of his immediate demise may be overly pessimistic, in such a volatile year. And plenty of people on Twitter, amid the derision, expressed sympathy for a stumble that many people go through routinely, albeit not on such a big stage.

But Perry’s already been struggling to fundraise in recent weeks after his poor debate performances and sinking poll number. With the moment playing on a cable news network blooper reel, this won’t help.

Perry’s problem for weeks has been a sense that he can’t handle himself in a debate, can’t think on his feet, can’t illustrate depth, and can’t take the rigors of a campaign. Wednesday night’s performance will essentially cement that view for GOP primary voters, just as he was hoping to woo them back with a positive, “I’m-one-of-you” message in Iowa.

The brain bubble would have been problematic regardless, but it was particularly so because Perry has spent the past two week answering questions about whether he was on something when he gave an over-animated speech in New Hampshire.

His best hope, sadly, is that the cable TV nets focus so heavily on Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s child-sex abuse scandal that the visual of his brain freeze moment doesn’t get as much air time.

That’s not much to hang his campaign’s future on.

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