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As the Battle Rages, It's Time to Check the Pulse of Swing States

By Chris Cillizza And Ben Pershing
Monday, September 22, 2008

With new national polling numbers coming out nearly every day in the presidential fight between Barack Obama and John McCain, it's easy to forget that the race for the White House remains a state-by-state battle for electoral votes.

To keep the eyes of the political world in the right place, The Fix will use the remaining Mondays before the general election to highlight several battleground states where either candidate appears to be soaring or slipping.

Away we go!

· Florida: Obama went on television in the Sunshine State early and often, spending more than $8 million on TV ads before McCain started his advertising this month. It appeared as though the Democrat's spending had gone for naught as polling seemed to show the Republican with a solid single-digit lead. But the most recent polls suggest Obama and McCain are essentially tied in the state; a Time-CNN poll conducted early this month showed both candidates receiving 48 percent of the vote, and a Research 2000 survey in the field at the same time put McCain at 46 percent and Obama at 45 percent. A St. Petersburg Times poll released yesterday showed McCain leading 47 percent to 45 percent.

· Minnesota: Long considered a shoo-in state for Obama, Minnesota appears to have returned to competitiveness after the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. A poll by the Minneapolis Star Tribune put the race at a dead heat -- 45 percent each for McCain and Obama -- while the newly minted Big Ten Battleground Poll, conducted by two University of Wisconsin political science professors, showed Obama with 47 percent and McCain with 45 percent. In a state as "Wild" for hockey as Minnesota -- Republican Sen. Norm Coleman is running for reelection on the slogan "he brought hockey back" -- could McCain's growth of late be related to the "hockey mom" effect?

· Indiana: When Obama passed over home-state Hoosier Sen. Evan Bayh, it was widely assumed that Indiana, which hasn't voted for a Democrat at the presidential level since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, was off the table for the Democrats. A series of new polls challenge that assumption, most notably a survey conducted by J. Ann Selzer, of Selzer & Co., that had Obama at 47 percent and McCain at 44 percent. (Political junkies will remember that Selzer, who is based in Des Moines, nailed the order of finish in the Iowa Democratic caucuses this year.) The reason for the competitiveness? Indiana's economy has been hit hard by the collapse of the manufacturing sector, and voters might think a change of the party in charge in Washington is the best way to voice their disapproval.

Social Security Makes Comeback

The financial meltdown is having an impact on political races up and down the ballot, as it adds to voters' feelings of insecurity and pushes economic issues front and center. But the crisis may be having another effect on House and Senate races by bringing back a vintage issue (circa 2005) -- Social Security.

Three years ago, Democrats had a big time tarring Republicans for their support of President Bush's dead-on-arrival Social Security plan, which sought to partially privatize the retirement program by allowing retirees to put their money in a variety of investments, including the stock market.

Now that the Dow Jones industrial average has been swinging up and down hundreds of points a day, Democrats are trying to repeat their efforts, reminding voters which Republicans backed Bush's plan.

In Pennsylvania's 11th District, where Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D) is fighting to keep his job, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running an ad against GOP candidate Lou Barletta, featuring "regular people" calling Barletta "George Bush's friend, not mine." Barletta, they say, "supported privatizing Social Security. Too risky for me."

And in Illinois' 11th District, an open-seat race to replace retiring Rep. Jerry Weller (R), the DCCC has been sending out mailings accusing Republican Marty Ozinga of backing "tax cuts that put our Social Security and Medicare in danger."

Individual Democratic candidates are also attempting to attack their GOP opponents on Social Security, and DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) predicts, "You're going to see a big uptick in this issue."

Barack Obama got in on the act Friday, asking attendees at a Miami rally to "imagine if you had some of your Social Security money in the stock market right now."

But Republicans scoff at the notion that Democrats will gain any traction on Social Security and suggested that Democrats were trying to distract from the real problems facing Congress.

"Clearly, they are not serious about finding solutions to this country's very serious economic challenges," said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

And will a stray line from Obama, an ad or a piece of direct mail really serve to put Social Security back on the front burner, particularly since the major debate over Bush's reform plan happened three years ago? The Monday Fix will keep an eye on those polls in Florida.

4 DAYS: The first presidential debate will be in Oxford, Miss. Watch how both campaigns seek to lower expectations this week in the run-up to the clash at Ole Miss.

10 DAYS: In one of the most anticipated moments of the campaign, Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin square off in a debate in Mrs. Fix's home town, St. Louis. Get the popcorn popped and the Raisinets ready!

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