President Obama’s problems in the Rust Belt are well-documented, but starting today, he ventures into territory that could be just  as important to his reelection campaign.

North Carolina and Virginia, which emerged as two of the more surprising victories for Obama in 2008, have like most states turned against the president over the last year. But like those Rust Belt states, they remain winnable, and the president’s three-day bus tour to the Southeastern states is seen as acknowledgement that he won’t be conceding them any time soon.

The White House, of course, emphasizes that this is strictly an official trip — paid for by the government and focusing on the president’s jobs plan and not campaign politics — but the destinations should leave little doubt about what the states mean to Obama, who has made a habit of mixing official business with swing state visits.

Polling shows the two states will be tough for him, but they haven’t deserted him either.

A recent Quinnipiac poll showed the president’s approval rating in Virginia is 45 percent, with 52 percent disapproving. He was in a statistical tie with both former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and businessman Herman Cain. (Another new poll released over the weekend has about the same results.)

In the state’s neighbor to the south, the situation is similar; a recent Elon University poll showed 42 percent of people in the Tar Heel State approve of the president, while 51 percent disapprove.

Those numbers are pretty similar to what we’re seeing in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, if not slightly better for the president. Given Virginia’s and North Carolina’s more conservative pasts, it’s notable that they haven’t completely turned their backs on the president. And the fact that they haven’t suggests changing demographics continue to keep them in play.

But while the president has his work cut out for him Rust Belt for a lot of reasons, the challenge is slightly different in the Southeast.

More than those Rust Belt states, Virginia and North Carolina will be a test of whether the president can turn out African-Americans. About one in five people in each state are black, and their enthusiasm in the 2008 election was a big reason the president was able to pull such upsets in their states.

Without an energized African-American electorate, the task of winning these two states becomes significantly harder. And this remains one of the big questions facing Obama’s reelection campaign.

The tougher task is certainly in North Carolina, where the president will be hard-pressed to match or better his one-point victory from 2008.

Virginia, on the other hand, was a surprising six-point victory for the president. And if he can come anywhere close to that and win the state, it will probably have been a pretty good day for his reelection campaign.

Cain and Bachmann low on cash: We knew most of the big third quarter numbers late last week, but a few more trickled in over the weekend.

Cain announced late Friday that he raised $2.8 million in the quarter, while Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) filed a report Saturday showing $3.9 million raised and very heavy spending — $5.9 million.

Neither campaign has a huge cash surplus, as both have about $1.3 million cash on hand.

Bachmann’s number is underwhelming, considering her win in the Ames Straw Poll in mid-August. Cain’s fundraising surged after his win in the Florida straw poll with one week left in September, but we likely won’t see the full financial effect of his new frontrunner status until the next filing.

In other reports filed this weekend, former senator Rick Santorum raised $704,000 and former House speaker Newt Gingrich raised $808,000. Santorum has just $190,000 cash on hand, and Gingrich remains deeply in debt, with more than $1 million owed.

DSCC woos Matheson: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee appears to be making a play for Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) to run for Senate, releasing a poll that shows him competitive with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

The Anzalone Liszt poll shows Hatch leading Matheson 48 percent to 42 percent. Perhaps more interestingly, Matheson’s job approval (66 percent) and favorable ratings (64 percent) are higher than Hatch’s (62 percent and 57 percent, respetively). Matheson represents about one-third of the state and is the son of a former governor, so he is pretty well-known statewide.

Matheson has left open his 2012 political options, suggesting he might run for Senate, against Gov. Gary Herbert (R), or for a newly created congressional district if Republicans target his current district in redistricting.

The poll confirms some other polling of the race, which has shown Matheson would have a chance to beat Hatch and is within single digits.

Dem super PAC targets four House GOPers: The House Majority PAC — a super PAC aimed at returning Democrats to the majority in the House — is going up with a six-figure ad buy targeting four House GOP incumbents.

The ads hit Reps. Dan Lungren (Calif.), Charlie Bass (N.H.), Bill Johnson (Ohio) and Sean Duffy (Wis.) for favoring Wall Street over middle-class families. They can be seen here.


Cain withstands a grilling on his 9-9-9 economic plan.

Ron Paul will deliver his economic plan at a speech in Las Vegas today calling for $1 trillion in cuts.

Viewership of this year’s GOP presidential debates is nearly twice as high as it was four years ago.

Gingrich says Cain has a shot at the GOP nomination.

Yet another poll shows former senator George Allen (R) and former Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine (D) in a statistical tie in the Virginia Senate race.

Many of the members of Congress who backed Romney in 2008 have yet to sign on with him this time.

Turns out Homer Simpson is a Buddy Roemer supporter — and donor.


Herman Cain tests how far a campaign can go with few traditional strengths” — Amy Gardner, Washington Post

On Taxes and Fences, Cain Stumbles a Bit” — Susan Saulny, New York Times

For Mitt Romney, Iowa could be fork in the road to GOP presidential nomination” — Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

Obama allies’ interests collide over Keystone pipeline” — Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, Washington Post

Mitt Romney: Too unloved to be inevitable?” — Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns


Can Obama hold on in the South?

Cain: Some would pay more under ‘9-9-9’ plan

Fact Checker: Axelrod’s spin gets ahead of the facts

Rick Perry’s war on drug cartels