Video: Todd: Current map in Obama’s favor

By Msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/5/2008 4:10:19 PM ET 2008-10-05T20:10:19

After two weeks of unprecedented fiscal turmoil, latest election polls show that voters care more about the economy than the so-called culture wars. Advantage: Barack Obama.

On Sunday’s Meet the Press, NBC Political Director Chuck Todd rolled out his Electoral College map and showed that polling in the past two weeks has tipped some battleground states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New Mexico toward the Democratic nominee.

“If the election were held today, I would say that Obama is up five or more points in enough states with about 264 electoral votes,” said Todd. Candidates need 270 electoral votes to win. 

“It’s the economy,” Todd said, citing the national credit crunch and a sinking housing market as major concerns for voters in swing states like Florida, where Obama is showing a slight lead. Todd explained Florida has been hit doubly hard with the downturn in both real estate and tourism.

“It may explain the Michigan decision,” said Todd of the McCain campaign pulling out of the state. “Florida is all of a sudden, a very economically-sensitive state.”

Battleground states that voted for President Bush in 2004 — Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Nevada, and Colorado — remain toss-ups, with polls showing an even race or a slight advantage toward Obama.

Todd also credited Obama's gains to a changed electorate. “If 10 to 15 percent of the electorate is new voters nationwide, it could be up to 20 percent in places like Virginia and North Carolina where Obama has registered hundreds of thousands of voters.” Todd says Obama got a headstart when he was trying to beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries. “All of that has now catapulted these two states from lean Republican states into, frankly, pure toss-up states.”

More character attacks and topic changers?
“Meet the Press” moderator Tom Brokaw also gathered left, right and middle-ground pundits Sunday to massage the latest developments with 30 days to go before the elections.

Former McCain strategist and current NBC News consultant Mike Murphy said that the Republicans can still win, but “McCain’s barn is on fire.”  “I think what McCain ought to pivot to is to connect himself to middle-class worries ... that’s better prosecution for the McCain campaign than these character attacks on Obama,” said Murphy.

Gov. Sarah Palin recently questioned Obama's character on the trail, associating Sen. Obama and William Ayers, a former member of a 1970s radical group Weathermen. Ayers is now a school reformer in Illinois.

“George Stephanopoulos of ABC asked him about this [in a previous debate],” said Democratic strategist Paul Begala. “Obama answered it. He pointed out that the despicable acts this guy committed were committed when, apparently, Barack Obama was eight years old. I think Governor Palin here is making a strategic mistake. This guilt by association path is going to be trouble ultimately for the McCain campaign.”

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“This will be a kerfuffle,” predicted Murphy. “It’ll do only a little damage to Obama, because fundamentally this campaign’s going to be about the economy.”

In a lively roundtable discussion which included NBC’s Todd, as well as correspondent David Gregory, Des Moines Register Chief Political Correspondent David Yepsen, PBS commentator (and Thursday’s debate moderator) Gwen Ifill, and The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, the participants all seemed to agree that the McCain campaign needed to revise its strategy. 

Todd called McCain’s thrust as “all tactics and no strategy, chasing the 24 hour-news cycle” without articulating a big-picture vision for the country.

Ifill acknowledged finding herself in the middle of such a cycle after she came under criticism for moderating the debate while writing a book about American politics and African-American leaders.

“If changing the subject from the stakes of the vice presidential debate meant talking about the moderator instead of talking about the candidate, they would do that,” said Ifill of the critics from the right. “It didn’t take but a couple of mouse clicks to discover that what they were saying about the book wasn’t true. In fact, I wasn’t writing the book they said. I haven’t even written the Obama chapter yet because I don’t know how it ends. If we’ve learned one thing about this campaign, is that every week it’ll be something else… [they’ll be] raising questions about anything else that’s out there.”

Columnist Peggy Noonan expressed deep concern about the effect the vicious campaign season and used harsh language to describe the behavior of the campaign architects. Noonan said she feared the campaigns are “opening the gates of hell,” and creating a “unique and dangerous moment” for America.

“We are living in the age of weapons of mass destruction, of crazy people who can get and harness these things and who can come and hurt us. This old partisan gamesmanship...  it’s over, it’s yesterday.  What we need now is grace. We need real patriotism, when patriotism isn’t used as a weapon in a campaign.” 

After the Palin-Biden debate
On the topic of last Thursday’s much-ballyhooed vice presidential debate, Ifill defended her performance as moderator: “The understanding was that we were going to have a debate.  Their job [candidates'] is to debate each other.  The moderator’s job is to control their debate.  If they have decided, as Joe Biden decided that he was going to debate John McCain, and Sarah Palin decided she was going to give a stump speech to the American people, there’s very little a moderator can do other than say, ‘No, no, no, listen, I asked a question.  Please, please answer,’” she said.

For Noonan, Palin came across as competent. “She convinced the American people that though they had seen her crater in interview after interview in the previous weeks, she was capable of coming forward and simply debating.” 

NBC’s Gregory said that while Palin was more rhetorical than substantive, Palin successfully “took herself off the table as an issue that could bring down the McCain campaign.” 

For Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Palin helped herself – but might not have helped her primary. “There were lots of moments where she was throwing John McCain under the bus.  It looked to me like this was a candidate who thinks this race may be over.  She’s starting to run in 2012.”

Murphy conjured up the colorful image of both campaign managers backstage during the debate “with a bottle of whisky and a revolver” waiting for either running mate to make a serious gaffe.  That didn’t happen, he says.

“It brought things back to the main event.”

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