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Obama Wins Third Debate

The snap polls are in and President Obama clearly won last night's debate. The CBS poll of uncommitted voters gave President Obama a decisive 53% to 23% victory. The CNN poll of debate watchers also put Obama ahead, albeit by a smaller margin, 48% to 40%. PPP ran a snap poll in swing states, and there Obama won 53% to 42%.

The debate covered the Middle East, Iran, and China, but the candidates clearly weren't interested in those parts of the world and preferred talking about America and its economy. Moderator Bob Schieffer tried to keep them focused on international affairs with mixed success. At first he was able to keep them on track, but in the end, he essentially gave up. Romney's main pitch on foreign affairs was that America needs to be more assertive in the world and Obama has been too weak. Obama countered by citing Romney's statements during the year and saying his foreign policy was all over the map.

One surprising aspect of the debate was the lack of emphasis on Libya and the death of Ambassador Stevens. Many people had expected Romney to come out swinging on this issue, but he didn't.

To some extent, this debate was the tonal inverse of the first one, with Obama going on the offensive constantly and Romney being meek and defensive more than in previous debates. He clearly knew he didn't have much of a track record on foreign affairs and it showed. When Obama lectured him, Romney often sat there quietly like a chastised student. Almost every line of attack Romney used was instantly rebutted. Foreign policy is always an area where a sitting President can come off as more credible than a challenger, especially one with no background in foreign affairs, and it showed.

Zinger lovers should be happy as each candidate got in a few. At one point Obama quoted Romney as saying that Russia was our biggest foreign challenge and said: "When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s." When Romney criticized Obama for not having visited Israel, Obama shot back, saying that he visited Israel during his campaign in 2008--and did it without donors and didn't do it to attend fundraisers. At one point Romney argued that defense spending was too low and the Navy had fewer ships than in 1917. Obama retorted: "Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets." Romney's focus was constantly attacking Obama for being weak and how America needed to be stronger in the world. Knowing he is behind with women, Romney was clearly thinking that lots of saber rattling would increase his score with men. He also said: "I will never apologize for America."

Zingers aside, there was little substantive difference between the two men. Romney didn't actually announce anything he would do differently than Obama. He didn't call for a bombing of Iran or sanctions on China. He didn't say how his long friendship with Benjamin Netanyahu would make him take any different actions to defend Israel than Obama is already taking. In fact, there was so much agreement on the actual issues that Obama said Romney was planning "to do the same things we do, but say them louder." One pundit, Marc Ambinder, thought Romney was so meek because he wants to keep the focus on the economy, not foreign affairs.

The second debate stopped Obama's freefall, but didn't reverse the losses he incurred from the first one. It is unlikely that this one will do a lot to help him, especially since few Americans really and truly care much about international affairs. Still, last night's performance did not do much to help Romney pass the commander-in-chief test.

Politico's Maggie Haberman made a list of seven takeaways from the debate.

Ronald Brownstein at the National Journal also published a list of takeaways from the debate.

National Polls Show a Statistical Tie

The latest WaPo/ABC poll shows President Obama at 49%, leading Mitt Romney with 48%. The difference is well within the margin of error. A month ago, Obama led by 3 points, so he is down 2 points in a month. The gender gap is the widest of the year, though, with Obama leading among women by 14 points while Romney leads among men by 12 points.

However, a Politico/GWU poll has Romney ahead 49% to 47%. The gender gap here is smaller, with women favoring Obama by only 6 points. But much of this poll was conducted before last week's presidential debate.

It May All Come Down to 106 Counties

The presidential race may ultimately be decided in only 106 of the 3141 counties in the United States. These 106 went for George W. Bush in 2004 and for Barack Obama in 2008. These are the swingiest counties. Few of the voters in these counties are undecided, so each campaign is focusing on selected groups of voters there. One of the counties is Loudoun County in Northern Virginia. Obama is going after newcomers and younger people there. Romney is trying to get votes among (retired) military members, sportsmen, and social conservatives. Another key county is Sandusky County in Ohio, which has become the most important swing state. The rebound in the auto industry has pushed the county's unemployment way down, below even the state average, which is below the national average. Obama's pitch that things are getting better might resonate there. Yet another county being fought over is Washoe County in Nevada, which is home to Reno and accounts for 15-20% of the state's vote. Since Clark County, with Las Vegas as its biggest city, is sure to go Democratic, Romney has to make up for it in Washoe.

Obama Leads Among Ohioans Who Have Already Voted

Four polls of people who have already voted in Ohio all show Obama in the lead there. SurveyUSA has him up by 19 points. Rasmussen puts Obama ahead by 29 points. The WSJ/NBC poll has Obama in the lead by 26 points. Finally, PPP gives Obama a 52-point lead among early voters. But Democrats should not break out the champagne yet. Democrats tend to vote early whereas Republicans are more inclined to vote on election day. Still, a vote banked is a vote that cannot be changed by events in the next two weeks.

Dead People Can Vote in Ohio

No, this is not about the ghost of Mayor Daley showing up in Ohio. The legal issue has come up of what happens if someone casts an absentee ballot early and dies before election day. Does the vote count? Ohio law does not directly address the issue, but state elections officials have said that a valid absentee ballot cast counts, even if the voter dies before election day. An early vote cast in person by someone who dies before election day certainly counts since officials have no way to telling which of the ballots in the ballot box was cast by a now-dead voter. In contrast, absentee ballots arrive in signed envelopes, needed to verify the identity of the voter.

Could Nov. 6 Bring on a Crisis?

The Florida 2000 election at least had human beings examining punched cards one by one to see what the voter might have meant. The 2012 election could be much worse, with voting machines being hacked, fights over who may vote, and disputes over which provisional ballots to count.

One key issue is the voting machines that will be used by 26 million voters. Only a year ago, experts at Argonne National Laboratory wrote that with $26 in parts anyone with an 8th grade science education could hack the election. Also an issue is that the voter fraud/voter suppression battle still going on in the courts, and likely to continue after the election unless one candidate has an unambiguous and striking victory nationwide.

The core problem is that many of the key players in the election process are highly partisan, ranging from the executives at the companies that make the voting machines to the Secretaries of State who conduct the elections. When these parties have a strong incentive for a particular outcome, rather than for a fair election, that is the formula for big trouble when the votes are finally counted (or not counted).

Obama Abandons North Carolina

Democratic strategist Paul Begala told CNN yesterday that Obama had essentially given up on winning North Carolina, a state he barely carried in 2008. In response, Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, tweeted that he was not giving up on the Tarheel State. Still, Begala has a point. Ohio is the real key, with Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada, next, and with finite resources, they probably have priority. Somewhat surprisingly, Romney is maintaining a small lead in Florida, despite Paul Ryan's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program being wildly unpopular with seniors there. From a campaigning point of view, though, Florida is a hugely expensive state with many media markets. Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada are all much cheaper states.

Today's Presidential Polls

State Obama Romney   Start End Pollster
Colorado 46% 50%   Oct 21 Oct 21 Rasmussen
Connecticut 53% 40%   Oct 19 Oct 21 SurveyUSA
Florida 46% 51%   Oct 18 Oct 20 Angus-Reid
Iowa 48% 48%   Oct 21 Oct 21 Rasmussen
Michigan 59% 39%   Oct 18 Oct 20 Angus-Reid
North Dakota 40% 54%   Oct 17 Oct 18 Rasmussen
New Hampshire 51% 42%   Oct 17 Oct 21 U. of New Hampshire
Ohio 46% 47%   Oct 15 Oct 15 Pulse Opinion Research
Ohio 47% 47%   Oct 18 Oct 21 Suffolk U.
Ohio 48% 48%   Oct 18 Oct 20 Angus-Reid
Ohio 50% 45%   Oct 17 Oct 20 Quinnipiac U.
Pennsylvania 48% 44%   Oct 15 Oct 15 Pulse Opinion Research
Pennsylvania 50% 45%   Oct 17 Oct 21 Muhlenberg Coll.
Pennsylvania 52% 42%   Oct 18 Oct 20 Angus-Reid
Virginia 47% 46%   Oct 15 Oct 15 Pulse Opinion Research
Wisconsin 50% 47%   Oct 15 Oct 15 Pulse Opinion Research
Wisconsin 51% 46%   Oct 18 Oct 20 Angus-Reid

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Connecticut Chris Murphy 47% Linda McMahon 43%     Oct 19 Oct 21 SurveyUSA
Florida Bill Nelson* 56% Connie McGillicuddy 39%     Oct 18 Oct 20 Angus-Reid
Michigan Debbie Stabenow* 59% Pete Hoekstra 39%     Oct 18 Oct 20 Angus-Reid
Ohio Sherrod Brown* 46% Josh Mandel 39%     Oct 18 Oct 21 Suffolk U.
Ohio Sherrod Brown* 47% Josh Mandel 41%     Oct 15 Oct 15 Pulse Opinion Research
Ohio Sherrod Brown* 49% Josh Mandel 44%     Oct 18 Oct 20 PPP
Ohio Sherrod Brown* 51% Josh Mandel 42%     Oct 17 Oct 20 Quinnipiac U.
Ohio Sherrod Brown* 52% Josh Mandel 45%     Oct 18 Oct 20 Angus-Reid
Pennsylvania Bob Casey* 45% Tom Smith 37%     Oct 17 Oct 21 Muhlenberg Coll.
Pennsylvania Bob Casey* 47% Tom Smith 46%     Oct 15 Oct 15 Pulse Opinion Research
Pennsylvania Bob Casey* 51% Tom Smith 45%     Oct 18 Oct 20 Angus-Reid
Virginia Tim Kaine 46% George Allen 44%     Oct 15 Oct 15 Pulse Opinion Research
Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin 46% Tommy Thompson 48%     Oct 18 Oct 18 Rasmussen
Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin 47% Tommy Thompson 46%     Oct 15 Oct 15 Pulse Opinion Research
Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin 50% Tommy Thompson 47%     Oct 18 Oct 20 Angus-Reid

* Denotes incumbent