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Where President Obama is headed (and what it means)

1. President Barack Obama will make stops in four states on the final weekend of the 2010 campaign, an itinerary that provides a glimpse into the races that Democrats see as their top priorities in 11 days time.

Obama is scheduled to hold rallies in Philadelphia (Pa.), Bridgeport (Conn.), Chicago (Ill.) and Cleveland (Ohio). He'll do events in the first three cities on Saturday Oct. 30 and then he and Vice President Joe Biden will be in Ohio together on Sunday Oct. 31.

Presidential travel is always carefully targeted for maximum impact -- and that goes double or triple when a president travels this close to an election. So, what do we make of the places where the president is making a final push for his party?

Philadelphia is a natural choice. The state is playing host to a very competitive Senate race between former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D), a race that if Sestak hopes to win he will need major turnout among Philly voters -- particularly in the African American community. There are also a number of competitive Democratic-held House districts -- the 7th and 8th districts being the most obvious -- that are within the Philadelphia media market and could benefit from an Obama visit.

Ditto Chicago. The President's home state has a competitive Senate and gubernatorial on the ballot. Democrats' best chance in both contests is to pull major margins of victory from the Windy City in hopes of offsetting what are expected to be big losses downstate. The Senate race between state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R) is likely the big target for Obama with this visit; not only is it a race for the Senate seat the president once held but polling suggests it is as close as close can be.

The Halloween stop in Ohio in Cleveland seems aimed entirely at Gov. Ted Strickland (D) who now appears to be a slight underdog against former Rep. John Kasich (R). The Ohio governor's race is important for reasons both practical (redistricting) and symbolic (it's the swingiest of states at the presidential level.)

Obama's stop in Bridgeport seems a bit odd since state Attorney General Dick Blumenthal (D) appears to be in solid position to defeat former World Wrestling CEO Linda McMahon (R) in the race to replace retiring Sen. Chris Dodd (D). Of course, Connecticut amounts to the ultimate firewall for Democrats to hold the Senate and the Obama trip may well be guided by a "better safe than sorry" mentality. There is also a competitive gubernatorial race going on in the Nutmeg State where former Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy (D) will almost certainly benefit -- at least among African American voters -- from the Obama stop and 4th district Rep. Jim Himes (D) will likely be happy to see the president as well.

Overarching all of this strategy talk is that there are simply some states and regions of the country where the President is persona non grata these days and where a visit could do more harm than good for targeted Democrats.

Still, if generating base enthusiasm is the name of the game for Democrats over the last week and a half of the election, there is no better way to do it (or at least try) then to hold a rally with the President of the United States.

2. After a tumultuous few weeks in which two of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's (D) rivals attacked each other with mutual allegations of dirty tricks, the four candidates in the Bay State's hotly contested gubernatorial race met Thursday night in what was perhaps their most civil showdown to date.

Neither Patrick nor any of his three opponents -- former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care CEO Charlie Baker (R), state Treasurer Tim Cahill (I) and Green-Rainbow Party nominee Jill Stein - made any major missteps in the hour-long debate. But none of the four candidates took any risks, either.

Patrick, who was first elected in 2006, stood by his record in the debate, contending as he did during last weekend's rally in Boston with President Barack Obama that Massachusetts is "growing jobs faster than 48 other states" and that he's working to put the state back on the right track.

"I didn't cause the global economic collapse, but nobody is working harder to get us out of it," Patrick said.

Baker, who pulled into a statistical tie with Patrick in last month's Boston Globe poll and whose internal polling showed him leading by seven points, criticized Patrick's tenure as governor several times during the debate, contending that the state faces serious challenges "no matter how positive a spin the governor may try to put on it."

"I think state government needs to live within its means the same way everybody else does," Baker said, adding that the next governor will face a $2 billion budget deficit and contended that the state "can do a lot better" than it's currently doing.

Cahill, who takes about 10 to 11 percent in recent polls, also put in a steady performance.

The candidates face off one more time -- next Monday. Both Baker and Cahill have released new TV ads in recent days; Baker's is a hard-hitting spot charging that Patrick "raised taxes eight times" and "allowed welfare recipients to use taxes to buy lottery tickets and beer." Cahill's ad, meanwhile, is a positive bio spot.

3. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said Thursday that as many as 100 or more seats could be in play in 11 days.

"Within the margin of error, I would say there are easily 95 to 100 seats" in play, Sessions said during an appearance on ABC News' "Topline" program.

The Texas Republican added that at least 40 GOP candidates are "well ahead" in polling right now - a number that would put Republicans over the 39 seats they would need to regain the majority.

Meanwhile, at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said not all of the incumbents he's trying to save were prepared for the current environment.

"There are a few members we approached many, many months ago to get their act together, who did not take that advice," Van Hollen said.

He didn't name any names, but there are a number of previously safe incumbents on whom the DCCC has been forced to spend its money recently - including Reps. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Jim Costa (Calif.), David Loebsack (Iowa), Tim Walz (Minn.), Rick Larsen (Wash.) and Lincoln Davis (Tenn.).

4. The Cook Political Report, a widely-read political handicapping newsletter, has moved three Senate races out of the "toss-up" category.

The Wisconsin race in which Sen. Russ Feingold (D) trails businessman Ron Johnson (R) moved to "lean Republican" as did the open seat in Missouri where the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has stopped spending money on behalf of Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D).

The open seat in Connecticut, which is being vacated by Sen. Chris Dodd (D), was moved from "toss up" to "lean Democrat" amid a long succession of polls that show state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) with a comfortable lead over former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (R).

The GOP is now favored to win four Democratic seats, according to Cook, and there are eight seats -- California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington State and West Virginia -- considered toss-ups. All but Kentucky are currently held by Democrats. Republicans need to win all four of the Democratic seats that lean toward them, hold Kentucky and win six of the remaining seven toss ups to claim the 10 seat pickup they need to reclaim the majority.

5. If it's Friday, it's time for the "Live Fix".

Starting at 11 a.m., we will spend an hour fielding your questions about the election to come -- and maybe the occasional question about coffee, music or field hockey.

You can either submit your questions in advance or follow along in real time. Come one, come all!

By Chris Cillizza  | October 22, 2010; 8:21 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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Next: Can Republicans capture the Senate majority?

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