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The Shadow of the Debates Looms Large

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney are preparing for the first debate Wednesday. Dozens of surrogates are preparing people for a miserable performance from their candidate. The idea is that if the candidate does not drool all over his tie, he can be declared the winner. It is not clear why they bother. People will watch the debate and decide what they think based on what they see, not based on how low the candidate's spinner has managed to set the bar. That aside, it is noteworthy that Team Romney has announced it has some real zingers it is going to hurl at Obama. In contrast, Obama said he is going to be serious and not aim for clever sound bites. But as every comedian knows all too well, good comedy requires not only good lines, but a sense of timing and pacing--qualities that Romney is not known for. If they fall flat, he is going to become fodder for the late night comedians, who do have good stage presence. In fact, even more-or-less-serious pundits are already suggesting zingers. The last thing Romney needs is to have his performance be judged on how clever his lines were and whether he delivered them well. He has to remember that he is auditioning to replace Barack Obama, not Jay Leno.

Chris Cillizza has some comments about what to expect. First, in the primary debates, it was like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, with Romney on stage with a bunch of buffoons. This time he has a well-prepared and highly knowledgeable opponent who also has the prestige of the presidency. He is going to be outside his comfort zone. Second, Romney desperately needs a big win; Obama can settle for a workmanlike performance showing that he knows the country has problems but he is a serious person working to fix things in the face of an obstructionist Congress. Third, in the primary debates, Romney was being hit from all sides by multiple people. He could choose who to answer and who to ignore. That won't work this time.

Everybody and his uncle is offering some advice. Here is some from the Washington Post:

Supreme Court Starts a New Term Today

We've heard nary a word about the Supreme Court this year, but that may change now that the Court is back in session. It is likely to get cases on same-sex marriage, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, affirmative action, and more inflammable material. Some of the Justices are getting up there in years and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had both colon cancer and pancreatic cancer, a particular bad disease with a low five-year survival rate. It is also thought that Justices Scalia and Kennedy would like to retire--but only if a Republican is in the White House to replace them. Sometimes the unexpected happens. There is a good chance the new President will get to make at least one appointment, so the Court could become a campaign issue.

Presidential politics aside, all eyes will be on Chief Justice John Roberts. Was his decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act just a tactical move to build up a mountain of credibility so he can render half a dozen far-right decisions this term and claim to be neutral? Or is he moving toward the center?

CNN: Polling Criticism is Nonsense

As conservatives continue to deride the polls--even Fox News polls--as biased towards Obama, more and more media outlets are fighting back by explaining more of the details of how polling works. In particular, while most polling organizations have a model based on gender, race, and some other demographic characteristics that don't change over the course of the campaign, they generally don't have a model for partisan identification. Instead, they just measure it because it can change quite a bit during a year. Thus complaints that the pollsters have too many Democrats in their polls are unfounded. If there are more Democrats than Republicans in a sample it is because more people told the pollsters they were Democrats.

Romney Continues to Fall on Intrade

During August, Romney had been holding steady on the betting site with a chance of about 42% of winning the election. Now that has dropped to 21%, an incredible loss in a very short period of time. Here is a graph of the data since Aug. 1.

Romney on intrade

Note that Intrade is a different measure than what the pollsters are seeing, although there is a correlation. The pollsters are asking "Who do you want to win?" Intrade is effectively asking: "Who do you expect to win?" There may be many people who want Romney to win but don't expect it to happen.

Candidates Pay Lots of Attention to One Small Rural County in Ohio

Historically, little (pop. 125,000) Wood County, Ohio has voted with the Ohio winner in every election since 1960 except 1976. With Ohio being a crucial swing state, both candidates have devoted a surprising amount to time to such a small, rural county. Of course, it is important not to confuse causation with correlation. Spending a ton of money and hours of time in Wood County does not cause the rest of the state to mimic it. It is the other way around: the county is balanced on a knife edge and when either party has an advantage, it shows up in Wood County. But politicians hate to leave things to chance, so they show up there.

Obama Approaches 10 Million Donors

Unlike Romney, who is counting on a small number of large donors, Obama is counting on a large number of small donors. The number of them is now approaching 10 million. That would be a historic milestone for sure.

Today's Presidential Polls

State Obama Romney   Start End Pollster
Massachusetts 57% 30%   Sep 21 Sep 27 U. of New Hampshire
Maryland 57% 34%   Sep 25 Sep 27 OpinionWorks
Maine 52% 36%   Sep 12 Sep 16 Critical Insights
North Carolina 48% 48%   Sep 27 Sep 30 PPP
Ohio 49% 45%   Sep 27 Sep 30 PPP
Ohio 51% 42%   Sep 19 Sep 29 Columbus Dispatch
Washington 52% 41%   Sep 26 Sep 26 Rasmussen

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren 43% Scott Brown* 38%     Sep 21 Sep 27 U. of New Hampshire
Maine Cynthia Dill 12% Charlie Summers 28% Angus King 50% Sep 12 Sep 16 Critical Insights

* Denotes incumbent