Mitt Romney has clearly received a larger-than-expected polling bounce from his strong debate performance. But it’s still unclear whether he is in the process of solving one of his candidacy’s most fundamental problems — the perception that Romney is disconnected from, or indifferent to, the needs and experiences of ordinary Americans, and that his policies wouldn’t protect the middle class’ interests and are skewed towards the rich.

Today’s New York Times/CBS/Quinnipiac polls, which show Obama leading in Virginia and Wisconsin, are getting a lot of attention because they show a big jump in the number who think Romney has strong leadership qualities. And indeed, he is now beating Obama in that department.

But arguably the more important findings concern the “empathy” and “middle class” questions. On the question of whether Romney cares about the needs and problems of “people like you,” his numbers remain upside down in Wisconsin (46-50) and Virginia (46-49). Obama’s numbers remain above 60 percent. The key is that Romney’s numbers on this question have not moved significantly since before the debate.

What’s more, Obama still leads by big margins in both states on who would do a better job helping the middle class (Virginia, 55-42; Wisconsin, 53-43). All of this is in spite of the fact that Romney is judged overwhelmingly to have done the better job in the debate. (On these questions, Romney fares significantly better in Colorado.)

Meanwhile, a new NBC/WSJ/Marist poll, which finds Obama ahead in Ohio, also finds Romney’s favorability ratings upside down, at 44-50. This, too, has barely moved since before the debate.

This is only one batch of polls, and we need a lot more data before reaching any final conclusions about what Romney did or didn’t accomplish at the debate. But one thing that bears watching is whether Romney is moving the needle when it comes to his basic image problems on empathy and the middle class. Romney’s debate performance probably reassured a lot of voters by persuading them that he has the temperament, competence, and leadership qualities a president needs. But that doesn’t mean he’s solved his “47 percent” problem — and that could continue to loom large.

* Polls show Obama leading in key states: The NYT/CBS polls show Obama leading in Virginia, 51-46, and in Wisconsin, 50-47, with Romney narrowly ahead in Colorado, 48-47.

There has been virtually no movement in the head to head in these states since before the debate, perhaps suggesting Romney’s bounce may be subsiding. The polls were taken from October 4-9; the samples contain polling taken on the two days just after the debate. The next round of polls, which won’t include those two days, will be even more instructive.

* Obama, Romney still tied on economy: Another key finding: Obama and Romney remain tied on the economy in Virginia (48-48) and roughly tied in Wisconsi (47-49); Romney leads in Colorado on the question. What’s more, huge numbers in Virginia (63), Wisconsin (63) and Colorado (60) say Romney has not clearly explained his plans for the next four years.

* Obama still leads in Ohio: The new NBC/WSJ/Marist polls show Obama ahead in Ohio (51-45), and barely in Florida (48-47). Unlike in the NYT/CBS poll, Romney holds a small edge in Virginia (48-47). There’s been virtually no movement in Ohio since before the debate, when the spread was 51-43.

Between this and Tuesday’s CNN survey, we now have two major post-debate polls showing Obama over 50 percent in this crucial state.

* Why the debates may not matter too much: This, from the NBC poll, is key:

In all three states, the overwhelming majority of voters said they made up their minds before the debate — 92 percent in Florida and Ohio, and 91 percent in Virginia. Just 7 percent in Virginia, 6 percent in Florida, and 5 percent in Ohio said they decided after the debate. But in all three states, Romney won them.

* Biden needs to restore Dem enthusiasm: Mike Allen talks to the Vice President’s advisers about what he hopes to accomplish tonight:

One of Vice President Biden’s missions is to calm down President Obama’s supporters — particularly the progressives who, in the view of the White House, have overreacted to the disappointing first debate. Biden plans to do that by making Ryan answer for his own proposals, as well as Romney’s. The V.P. wants to stay more on offense than on defense, and expose and explain contrasts.

A solid debate performance from Biden, plus the above swing state polls, should go some way towards quieting the panic. But he needs to do more than that: Nate Silver notes that Biden will have to reverse the slide in Dem enthusiasm triggered by Obama’s flat debate performance.

* Ryan needs to be pressed on Medicaid: Jonathan Cohn suggests a good line of questioning for Paul Ryan at tonight’s debate, one focused on his proposed cuts to Medicaid spending, which would matter a great deal to real people and families:

They would expose the elderly and disabled, as well their loved ones, to the kind of suffering this country spent decades trying to eradicate. Sometime tonight, or perhaps in the two remaining presidential debates, I hope the Republican nominees get a chance to explain why they think that’s such a great idea.

The Obama camp’s focus on Medicaid could help draw a sharp moral contrast on the real-world impact each side’s vision would have on people’s lives.

* Sherrod Brown takes on the outside money: E.J. Dionne has a nice column on Senator Brown’s battle for reelection in the face of some $20 million in outside spending, making this an epic battle between an old fashioned labor-populist and outside interests determined to stop him. Brown sums it up:

“Why this money? Who are these people? Why are they spending it in Ohio?”

As I noted here recently, this race is in one sense the most important Senate contest in the country — the clearest referendum we’ve got on whether outside spending can depose an incumbent, regardless of the quality match-up of the candidates.

* More good economic news: Jobless claims have improved sharply and dropped to the lowest point of the Obama presidency.

* The precedent a Romney win would set: Juliet Lapados hits on one of this blog’s pet questions: What precedent would it set if Romney’s serial dishonesty, evasions and obfuscations propelled him to the White House?

Candidates will be justified in assuming not only that they can lie, but that they can tell different lies to different audiences from week to week, and voters will actually reward them.

* And meet one of Obama’s (rather strange) mega-donors: TPM’s Eric Lach has an entertaining, deeply reported piece on one of Obama’s wealthiest backers: Kareem Ahmed, a promoter of “compound drugs” who has given at least $1 million to the Obama campaign, Democrats, and outside groups who support them. He is also rather litigious:

“I’m prepared. My law firms are ready to go, and I’ve got PR firms retained already. They’re waiting for your article.”

Read the whole thing right here.

What else?