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First Thoughts: A status-quo election?

Is it possible we see a status-quo election?... Final jobs report before election is mostly good news for Obama: Economy added 171,000 jobs in October and unemployment rate ticks up to 7.9%... How to view Romney’s move into Pennsylvania… Don’t compare this election’s data with 2008; compare it with 2004… Trying to predict the turnout, as well as Sandy’s impact… Obama campaigns in Ohio, while Romney will be in Wisconsin and the Buckeye State… Public poll suggests Mourdock is headed for defeat… And “Meet” has David Plouffe and Eric Cantor.

With Election Day looming, the state of Ohio has become the game-changer with President Obama and Mitt Romney planning six visits in the last four days of the presidential race. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

*** A status-quo election? Despite the billions of dollars spent, the endless campaigning, and the breathless reporting, it is POSSIBLE we could end up with a status-quo result on Election Day -- with President Obama winning re-election, Democrats keeping control of the Senate, and Republicans staying in power in the House. Now we’re not saying these things will happen, but with four days to go, you’d probably rather be Obama than Mitt Romney, Senate Democrats instead of Senate Republicans, and House Republicans rather than House Democrats. But if that’s the result on Tuesday, we’d have a status-quo result after three previous change elections (in 2006, 2008, and 2010). And it would be an ironic outcome, given the majorities who believe the country is headed on the wrong track and given Congress’ very low approval rating. Then the challenge would be to govern – with better results than we saw in 2011 and 2012. Of course, it’s possible we see a fourth-straight change election. But it’s also very possible things stay the same.

According to an early estimate from Moody's Analytics, economic losses from the storm will approach $50 billion, including property damage and lost economic activity.

*** Economy adds 171,000 jobs in October, unemployment rate at 7.9%: When it comes to the last jobs report before the election, it’s good news for Team Obama. In October, the U.S. economy added 171,000 jobs and the unemployment ticked up to 7.9% -- but remains below 8%. The AP: "The Labor Department's last look at hiring before Tuesday's election sketched a picture of a job market that is gradually gaining momentum after nearly stalling in the spring. Since July, the economy has created an average of 173,000 jobs a month, up from 67,000 a month from April through June. Still, President Barack Obama will face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt. The rate ticked up because more people without jobs started looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching.”

*** How to view Romney’s move into Pennsylvania: There are two ways to interpret Mitt Romney’s decision to campaign in Pennsylvania on Sunday. Either it’s a move to run up the score (trying to get to 300 electoral votes) and project more momentum, or it’s an effort to search for another path to 270 electoral votes. Ask yourself what is the more likely option, and it’s hard to ignore the latter. Consider: Most public polls continue to show Obama leading slightly in Ohio, and Romney hasn’t made a serious campaign effort in Keystone State since the primaries. Indeed, it’s difficult not to compare this move to an on-side kick in football -- when you’re behind by a touchdown with a few ticks on the clock left.

Reuters, Getty Images

In the final push in the 2012 presidential election, candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama make their last appeals to voters.

*** Don’t compare this election’s data with 2008; compare it with 2004: Bracing for a very close election on Tuesday night, we’re sure that everyone is studying past exit polls, county vote totals in the swing states, the early vote, and previous victory margins. But perhaps the best way to compare Tuesday’s contest isn’t with the figures from 2008, when Barack Obama decisively beat John McCain in 2008, 53%-46%. Instead, it’s comparing this election with 2004, when George W. Bush narrowly beat John Kerry, 51%-48%. How Obama is performing vs. Kerry and how Romney is performing vs. Bush might be the best way to understand how Election Night is breaking, especially when it comes to Ohio.

*** Patchwork Nation: One way additional way to compare this election with 2004 and 2008 is through Patchwork Nation, the work by journalist Dante Chinni putting all the nation’s counties -- including those in battleground states -- into 12 different county categories. Some examples: Industrial Metropolis (think Philadelphia), College and Careers (Johnson County, IA), Monied Burbs (Fairfax County, VA), Empty Nests (Lake, FL), Immigration Nation (Maricopa, AZ), Boom Towns (Clark, NV), and Evangelical Epicenters (Christian, MO). What is interesting here: When you take the merged likely-voter respondents from our national NBC/WSJ poll from these different county types, you see that Obama is underperforming from 2008 but overperforming from 2004. For instance, in the Monied Burbs -- which makes up 23% of the country’s population -- Obama is leading Romney by seven points among likely-voter respondents in the NBC/WSJ poll, 51%-44%. That’s lower than Obama’s 12-point lead over McCain in ’08. But it’s greater than Kerry’s two-point edge in ’04, 50%-48%. Bottom line: If Obama is overperforming Kerry from ’04, he’s likely to win. Ditto if Romney is overperforming Bush.

*** Trying to predict the turnout: What will the turnout be on Election Day? The Republican half of our NBC/WSJ polling team has researched the topic, predicting that the number of votes will EXCEED those cast in 2008 -- which was just more than 130 million. But they also believe that the percent of citizens of voting age who will participate will DROP from 2008 (62.9%) and 2004 (63.1%) due in large part to less voter enthusiasm than in those past elections. So how could the number of votes increase but the participation percentage drop? The answer is simple: The U.S. population has grown from 2008 (when there were 210 million Americans of voting age) to 2012 (when there are almost 220 million).

Larry Downing / REUTERS

President Barack Obama addresses the crowd at a campaign event at the University of Colorado Boulder, Nov. 1, 2012.

*** And Sandy’s impact on turnout: Here’s another question: What will Sandy’s impact on turnout be? The AP has this quote from turnout expert Michael McDonald: “It’s unlikely disruptions from Sandy would affect the outcome of the election within those states. But if those voters, who are mostly Democrats, end up being subtracted from the national popular vote, you'll get a lower vote share for Obama than he would have received if those people had voted.” And crunching the numbers – if you assume 2008 totals and a 15% reduction in turnout in the coastal counties in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, Obama might end up losing a net 340,000 votes.  Our math:

New York: GRAND TOTAL: Obama -247,000
New York – Obama -86,000, Romney -14,000, Net: Obama -72,000
Queens – Obama -72,000, Romney -23,000, Net: Obama -49,000
Kings – Obama -91,000, Romney -23,000, Net: Obama -68,000
Bronx – Obama -51,000, Romney -6,000, Net: Obama -45,000
Richmond – Obama -12,000, Romney -13,000, Net: Romney -1,000
Nassau – Obama -51,000, Romney -43,000, Net: Obama -8,000
Suffolk – Obama -52,000, Romney -46,000, Net: Obama -6,000

New Jersey: GRAND TOTAL: Obama -60,000
Bergen – Obama -34,000, Romney -28,000, Net: Obama -6,000
Hudson – Obama -23,000, Romney -8,000, Net: Obama -15,000
Union – Obama -21,000, Romney -12,000, Net: Obama -9,000
Essex – Obama -36,000, Romney -11,000, Net: Obama -25,000
Middlesex – Obama -29,000, Romney -19,000, Net: Obama -10,000
Monmouth –Obama -22,000, Romney -24,000, Net: Romney -2,000
Ocean – Obama -16,500, Romney, -24,000, Net: Romney -7,500
Atlantic – Obama -10,200, Romney -7,500, Net: Obama -2,700
Cape May – Obama -3,500, Romney -4,000, Net: Romney -500

Connecticut: GRAND TOTAL: Obama -29,000
Fairfield – Obama -36,000, Romney -25,000, Net: Obama -9,000
New Haven – Obama -35,000, Romney -22,000, Net: Obama -13,000
Middlesex – Obama -8,000, Romney -5,000, Net: Obama -3,000
New London – Obama -11,000, Romney -7,000, Net: Obama -4,000

Rhode Island: GRAND TOTAL: Obama -3,600
Washington – Obama -6,000, Romney -4,000, Net: Obama -2,000
Newport – Obama -4,000, Romney -2,400, Net: Obama -1,600

*** On the trail: Obama spends his day in Ohio, hitting Hilliard at 10:20 am ET, Springfield at 12:55 pm ET, and Lima at 3:20 pm ET… Romney campaigns in West Allis, WI at 10:55 am ET and in West Chester, OH (with Ann Romney and Paul Ryan) at 7:30 pm ET… Biden stumps in Wisconsin, while Ryan is in Iowa… Bill Clinton visits Florida, and Michelle Obama hits Virginia.

*** Is Richard Mourdock headed for defeat? According to a new poll, it appears that way in Indiana’s Senate contest. “Democratic Senate nominee U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly has built a significant lead in the race for Senate, according to a new Howey/DePauw University Battleground Poll. The poll, released this morning, shows Donnelly leading Republican State Treasurer Richard Mourdock 47 percent to 36 percent, with Libertarian Andrew Horning getting 6 percent.” Now Republicans have released their own poll showing Mourdock at 46% and Donnelly at 44%

*** On “Meet”: This Sunday, NBC’s David Gregory interviews White House senior adviser David Plouffe and House Majority Leader Cantor.

Countdown to Election Day: 4 days

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