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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Voter Registration Gives Democrats Edge in Many Swing States


Voter registration ended Tuesday in Colorado, Florida and Ohio, three critical pieces to the electoral battleground puzzle, along with a dozen other states.

An aggressive registration push by President Obama's campaign produced Democratic advantages in nearly every swing state where registration is cataloged by political party. But in most states, Republicans are cutting into the Democratic margins that helped sweep Mr. Obama into office four years ago, according to preliminary figures from state election officials.

The closing day of registration lured Mr. Obama and Mitt Romney to Ohio, where voters do not specify a political party, but both campaigns pushed hard to get supporters to register.

In Florida, Democrats started the day with a 450,000-voter edge over Republicans, which is down from 610,000 in 2008. In Iowa, preliminary numbers showed that Democrats recorded a 12,000-voter advantage over Republicans, dow n from a 103,000-voter advantage four years ago.

A survey of election officials in swing states on Tuesday found that Colorado was the only battleground where Republicans had a preliminary advantage over Democrats, by about 14,000 registered voters. But the key to Colorado and other states rests in independents or unaffiliated voters. Final state-by-state figures will be available later this month.

Obama Makes Last-Minute Appeal for Early Voters in Ohio


COLUMBUS, Ohio - On the last day of “golden week” here - so named because it is the week in which you can register to vote and then vote at the same time and place - President Obama descended on the Ohio State University campus to urge his faithful to head to the polls. Now.

Some 20 tour buses lined up outside the campus, waiting to shuttle students and other Democrats to early voter polling stations before they closed at 9 p.m. Will.I.Am. yelled “Four! More! Years!” while mixing tunes (he butchered Bruce Springsteen's “Born in the U.S.A.” with improvised lines including “I want my Mac made in the U.S.A.”) for the assembled crowd beforehand, then promised to do it some more later in the evening if people showed up at various county offices to punch their ballots. Democratic campaign aides hustled among the 15,000 people gathered in the fall sunshine as they exhorted people to go vote - not on Nov. 6, but no w.

With the president's lead dwindling after a dismal showing in last week's presidential debate, the Obama campaign is doing all it can to get voters in this crucial swing state, with its 18 electoral votes, to the polls while they are still leaning his way. Especially now that his Republican rival, Mitt Romney - who is campaigning all week in Ohio - is putting a renewed effort on winning the state, there was no way that Mr. Obama wasn't going to stop here one more time this week before heading home after a West Coast fund-raising swing.

“Buckeyes, I've got a question, are you registered to vote?” the president yelled at the crowd.

“Grab your friends, grab everybody in your dorm, grab your fraternity or sorority, join Will.I.Am 'cause he's going to be at an early vote location, and you can register and vote at the same time,” Mr. Obama said to cheers. “Don't delay. Go vote today.” Someone yelled the usual “I love you,” and Mr. Obama responded, “I love you back, but I need you voting.”

As he had for the last six days, Mr. Obama continued to throw the punches at Mr. Romney that he didn't throw last week during the debate in Denver. He derided Mr. Romney's threat to stop funding for PBS programming like “Sesame Street” (Mr. Romney specifically singled out Big Bird.)

“Elmo's making a run for the border, Oscar's hiding in a trash can,” Mr. Obama said, striking a theme he and his campaign have repeatedly hit in recent days. “Romney's letting up on regulation on Wall Street but he's gonna go after ‘Sesame Street.' ”

The president's aides have been increasingly worried about a possible Romney bounce after last Wednesday's debate, when Mr. Obama, many Democrats acknowledge, gave a lackluster performance. Mr. Obama will be holing up in Williamsburg, Va., for four days starting Saturday to prep for next Tuesday's debate, when, aides say, he will presumably try to transfer the aggressive way he has gone after Mr. Romney at rallies like the one at Ohio State before a few thousand people to a nationally televised audience that may reach more than 60 million.

But on Tuesday night, it was all about voting - now, a point the president's surrogates emphasized.

“All of you have either already voted or you're about to vote, you're about to register to vote, you're going to change this election, you're going to change this country for the next four years,” Senator Sherrod Brown, sounding manic, yelled at the crowd as he warmed them up for Mr. Obama.

The president, for his part, wound up his speech with a simple “Let's go vote!” Brooks and Dunn's “Only in America” blasted from the stereos â€" as it always does - while the president worked the rope line. And, across the campus, the tour buses revved up their engines and ferried their loads of people to the county offices to register.

Jack Welch Will Stop Writing for Fortune


Even corporate titans have feelings too.

Jack Welch, the former chief executive of General Electric, said Tuesday that he would no longer write for Fortune magazine, after Fortune produced coverage that was critical of his comments last Friday about the Department of Labor's monthly jobs report. The report showed the unemployment rate dipping below 8 percent for the first time since January 2009, and Mr. Welch suggested on Twitter that the Obama administration had manipulated the numbers to help the president's re-election campaign.

“Unbelievable jobs numbers. these Chicago guys will do anything. can't debate so change numbers,” Mr. Welch's post read.

Those comments managed to gain some traction on the Web among some conservatives, but also came under widespread attack and even ridicule from economists and the financial media, some of whom argued that the comments were just plain wrong. The critics incl uded Fortune; its managing editor, Andy Serwer; and CNN Money, which shares content with Fortune.com.

In an article that Fortune posted online Tuesday afternoon, Stephen Gandel wrote that on Monday morning Mr. Serwer went on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” and disputed Mr. Welch's contention about job manipulation. Early Tuesday morning, Fortune.com posted an article highlighting the fact that General Electric shed some 100,000 jobs during Mr. Welch's two-decade leadership.

By breakfast time, Mr. Welch had had enough. In an e-mail that Mr. Welch sent to Mr. Serwer, as well as Stephen J. Adler, editor in chief of Reuters News, and that Fortune posted on its Web site, Mr. Welch said he and his wife, Suzy, would no longer contribute to Fortune or Reuters, which had also reported on the Welch post. He said that on Wednesday he would have an article in The Wall Street Journal instead.

“It's just a better platform for us than Reuters or Fortune,” he wrote. “So e ffective today, we're terminating our contract.”

The Wall Street Journal declined to comment on whether Mr. Welch would have a column in Wednesday's paper.

Jack Welch Will Stop Writing for Fortune


Even corporate titans have feelings too.

Jack Welch, the former chief executive of General Electric, said Tuesday that he would no longer write for Fortune magazine, after Fortune produced coverage that was critical of his comments last Friday about the Department of Labor's monthly jobs report. The report showed the unemployment rate dipping below 8 percent for the first time since January 2009, and Mr. Welch suggested on Twitter that the Obama administration had manipulated the numbers to help the president's re-election campaign.

“Unbelievable jobs numbers. these Chicago guys will do anything. can't debate so change numbers,” Mr. Welch's post read.

Those comments managed to gain some traction on the Web among some conservatives, but also came under widespread attack and even ridicule from economists and the financial media, some of whom argued that the comments were just plain wrong. The critics incl uded Fortune; its managing editor, Andy Serwer; and CNN Money, which shares content with Fortune.com.

In an article that Fortune posted online Tuesday afternoon, Stephen Gandel wrote that on Monday morning Mr. Serwer went on MSNBC's “Morning Joe” and disputed Mr. Welch's contention about job manipulation. Early Tuesday morning, Fortune.com posted an article highlighting the fact that General Electric shed some 100,000 jobs during Mr. Welch's two-decade leadership.

By breakfast time, Mr. Welch had had enough. In an e-mail that Mr. Welch sent to Mr. Serwer, as well as Stephen J. Adler, editor in chief of Reuters News, and that Fortune posted on its Web site, Mr. Welch said he and his wife, Suzy, would no longer contribute to Fortune or Reuters, which had also reported on the Welch post. He said that on Wednesday he would have an article in The Wall Street Journal instead.

“It's just a better platform for us than Reuters or Fortune,” he wrote. “So e ffective today, we're terminating our contract.”

The Wall Street Journal declined to comment on whether Mr. Welch would have a column in Wednesday's paper.

The Caucus Click: From the Military Institute to the Schoolyard


5:39 p.m. | Updated LEXINGTON, Va. - After weeks of refraining from dipping back into the sensitive topic of the attack that killed the American ambassador in Libya, Mitt Romney on Monday offered harsh criticism of the administration for being slow to label the assault terrorism and faulted its overall handling of the attack.

The assault on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi “cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration's attempts to convince us of that for so long,'' Mr. Romney said. “No, as the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others.''

In a wide-ranging foreign policy address meant to polish Mr. Romney's image as a potential commander in chief, he belittled President Obama as “leading from behind” in conflict spots across the Middle East, from Syria to Iran to Egypt to Israel.

Acknowledging that Mr. Obama deserves credit for killing Osama bin Laden, he nonetheless criticized the president as lacking a comprehensive counterterrorism policy and failing to capitalize on the Arab Spring uprisings.

“Unfortunately, so many of these people who could be our friends feel that our president is indifferent to their quest for freedom and dignity,'' he said, speaking at the Virginia Military Institute. “As one Syrian woman put it, ‘We will not forget that you forgot about us.'”

On Iran, Mr. Romney said that the president's sanctions had failed to slow its march to a nuclear weapon. He would “put the leaders of Iran on notice” that the United States, along with “friends and allies,” would halt that progress, beginning with a show of military force.

“I will restore the permanent presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf,'' Mr. Romney said, speaking in the Hall of Valor of the Virginia Military Institute. “For the sake of peace, we must make clear to Iran through actions - not just words - that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated.''

He went further, linking Iran's continued progress toward a nuclear weapon to Mr. Obama's putting “daylight” between the Unites States and Israel, which Mr. Romney said “emboldened” Iran.

“The world must never see any daylight between our two nations,'' he said. Some Middle East experts have described that formulation as having the potential to lead the United States into war, given the bellicose signals of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, toward Iran.

The Obama campaign pushed back aggressively on Mr. Romney's address, beginning early in the day, when excerpts from the speech were released. It held up past inconsistencies and stumbles by Mr. Romney, including calling Russia the country's “No. 1 geopolitical foe'' and opposing support for the Libyan insurgency before its ultimate success.

Two national security advisers to the Obama campaign, Michèle Flournoy and Colin Kahl, critiqued Mr. Romney's “unseemly response” in attacking the administration for rushing “to sympathize with those who waged the attacks'' on American outposts on Sept. 11, before the death of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was confirmed.

Mr. Romney's “instinct was to play politics with the tragedy and attempt to score political points in any way he could,'' the advisers wrote.

Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, said in a conference call after Mr. Romney's speech, “To someone not totally into foreign policy, it sounds pretty good, but it's really full of platitudes.''

“For someone who has spent her own life in foreign policy, there's an awful lot of rhetoric,” she said, adding, “You don't get th e sense he knows what tools to use and how to operate in an international setting and what the role of the United States is in the 21st century.''

Roving broadly in his speech over Iraq, Afghanistan and counterterrorism, Mr. Romney conspicuously left one name unmentioned: George W. Bush, the architect of much of the unilateralist policy in the region, a version of which Mr. Romney embraced.

“It is the responsibility of our president to use America's great power to shape history - not to lead from behind, leaving our destiny at the mercy of events,'' Mr. Romney said. “Unfortunately, that is exactly where we find ourselves in the Middle East under President Obama.''

The Caucus Click: Feathered Protesters


Romney Reveals That He Met Former Navy SEAL Killed in Libya


VAN METER, Iowa - One day after criticizing President Obama for his handling of the deadly assault on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, Mitt Romney revealed that he had met one of the former Navy SEALs killed at the diplomatic compound there.

Mr. Romney told a story for the first time of having met a young man at a neighbor's home in Massachusetts, a former SEAL, and having discussed their mutual love of skiing and the new acquaintance's postmilitary career in security work in the Middle East.

“You can image how I felt,” Mr. Romney said, “when I found out he was one of the two former Navy SEALs killed in Benghazi on Sept. 11.”

His campaign confirmed that the man, whom Mr. Romney did not name, was Glen A. Doherty, 42, a native of Winchester, Mass., who died at the diplomatic compound with the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, when militants attacked.

Mr. Romney introduced Mr. Doherty's death a s part of a passage he has recently added to his stump speech about people he knew whose lives were cut short. As he has in recent days, he also mentioned befriending and counseling a 14-year-old boy with leukemia. The material is part of an effort the Romney campaign acknowledges is meant to humanize Mr. Romney's image, which he himself initiated. The crowd quietly gasped at the description of Mr. Doherty.

But the story also seemed to serve a more political purpose, too, a reminder of Republican criticism of the Obama administration's failure to quickly acknowledge that the Benghazi assault was the premeditated work of terrorists. In a foreign policy address on Monday, Mr. Romney harshly criticized the president for failing to assert American leadership across the Middle East.

On Tuesday, Mr. Romney seemed to draw a parallel between Mr. Doherty's rushing into harm's way in Benghazi and Mr. Romney's own efforts to come to the aid of his country.

“This is the American way, we go where there's trouble, we go where we're needed,'' Mr. Romney said of Mr. Doherty. “And right now we're needed. Right now the American people need us. This is a critical time for us.''

He pledged that “when I become president,'' he would strengthen the economy, the American family and American values.

TimesCast Politics: Democrats React as the Race Tightens


The Movement to Put Utility Payments on Credit Reports


It sounds like a good way to help consumers who lack full credit reports, or any credit report at all: Report their utility payments to credit bureaus, to help them develop credit files.

Currently, most gas and electric utilities don't report most consumer payments to credit bureaue. They typically report only extremely delinquent accounts that they have written off as uncollectable, rather than those that are merely late or those that are paid on time.

But proponents of full utility reporting argue that giving consumers credit for on-time payments can help them develop a credit file and a credit score, which can be key to economic advancement. Supporters include United States Representative Jim Renacci, who has co-sponsored a bill (H.R. 6363) that he says promotes reporting of on-time utility payments. “Those who have yet to gain credit should be able to use all of the tools available to them to establish their credit worthiness,” he said in a statement announcing the measure.

The problem, a group of consumer advocates say, is that broader reporting of utility payments to credit bureaus may actually hurt the records of lower-income consumers, who are more likely to pay bills like those for gas and electric service late as they struggle to make ends meet. The advocates, led by the National Consumer Law Center, outlined their concerns recently in testimony before Congress and in a letter to Mr. Renacci.

The concern, says John Howat, a lawyer with the consumer law center, is that there is a gap between the number of accounts that are just in arrears, but that are likely to eventually be paid, and those that are written off as not collectible. If those accounts that are simply late were to be reported too, they would likely have a negative effect on the consumer's credit.

“The number of accounts that are written off and stay disconnected is t iny, compared to the number where they're a little bit late,” he said, citing in part an analysis of publicly available utility data from the state of Iowa.

(While proponents of the bill argue that it gives credit for on-time payments, Mr. Howat says the bill's language, which would amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act, doesn't restrict the additional reporting to “positive” payments, but would allow reporting of late payments, too.)

Lower-income people, especially those in areas where bills fluctuate greatly from season to season, are more likely to get behind on their bills, Mr. Howat said. Most states have restrictions preventing utility shutoff for bills that are in arrears.

People in the Northeast, for instance, may fall behind in the winter, but then they catch up on payments when the weather warms and their monthly bills drop. “Particularly in households where there isn't enough income, for a whole range of reasons, to pay for necessities, the y may be a little bit late but they do ultimately catch up,” he said.

The center wouldn't oppose offering full utility reporting on an optional basis, he said. “If the objective is really to build credit histories for people who have no file, or thin files, let them opt in,” he said.

Would you opt-in to having all of your utility payments reported to credit bureaus? Do you think it would help or hurt your credit score?

Ohio Official Will Take Early Voting Decision to Supreme Court


COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio secretary of state, Jon Husted, said Tuesday that he will appeal to the Supreme Court a decision by a federal appeals court last week that sided with President Obama‘s campaign, allowing expanded early voting in the final three days before the election.

“This is an unprecedented intrusion by the federal courts into how states run elections and because of its impact on all 50 states as to who and how elections will be run in America we are asking the Supreme Court to step in and allow Ohioans to run Ohio elections,” Mr. Husted, a Republican, said in a statement.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that Ohio voters would be “irreparably injured” by a decision from the secretary of state that called for eliminating three days of in-person early voting Nov. 3 to Nov. 5. The court said the decision could be left to individual counties.

But Mr. Husted, who has pushed for bringing uniformity to election laws across the 88 counties in Ohio, said Tuesday that he found the ruling to be “stunning” and a violation of equal protection because voters would be treated differently.

“This ruling not only doesn't make legal sense, it doesn't make practical sense,” Mr. Husted said. “The court is saying that all voters must be treated the same way under Ohio law, but also grants Ohio's 88 elections boards the authority to establish 88 different sets of rules. That means that one county may close down voting for the final weekend while a neighboring county may remain open.”

Visualizing the Impact of C.D. Laddering


With interest rates on savings accounts still anemic, considering a so-called ladder of certificate of deposits might make sense. Ally Bank has started an online tool with interactive graphics that helps savers visualize the laddering process and its potential financial benefits.

Say you have a lump of cash that you've saved, perhaps $50,000 for an emergency fund, and you want to keep it in a low-risk, F.D.I.C. insured account. But you also want to maximize your interest rate, and you don't want to risk having to pay a fat penalty if you need some of your money.

Instead of putting the entire amount in a one-year C.D., you might divide the amount into five equal pots of $10,000 each and put it into sepa rate, progressively longer-term certificates. The first pot goes into a one year C.D., the second into a two-year C.D., the third into a three-year and so on. (Longer-term certificates generally carry higher interest rates.)

When the one-year C.D. comes due, you roll it into a five-year C.D. (or whatever the longest term is that you've bought already). After five years, all the C.D.s will be for the same term, but you'll have access to at least part of your money every 12 months.

With Ally's tool, you enter the amount you have to deposit, and the tool walks you through the process of laddering. One drawback is that the tool uses Ally's current (albeit competitive) interest rates (1.04 percent annual percentage yield on a one-year C.D and 1.69 percent A.P.Y. on a five-year C.D.). You can't plug in rates you find elsewhere. But the tool does help you to clearly see the impact of laddering. You could print out your example and go compari son shopping.

For example, the tool calculates that if you have $50,000 to deposit over five years, using the bank's current rates, you'll come out an estimated $1,600 ahead by laddering than if you simply put the money in a one-year C.D. and renew it annually. (The example assumes, however, that the rates on the C.D.'s stay the same as you renew). The impact is less striking over a shorter period, because the rates on the C.D.'s are lower; the difference for a three-year laddering plan using $30,000, for instance, is an estimated $610.

Do you think laddering C.D.'s makes sense?

From the Magazine: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama Basically Agree on the Economy

Illustration by Peter Oumanski

Christina Beckwith was a public high-school Spanish teacher in Michigan when she was laid off because of government spending cuts. She says she wants to vote for whichever candidate will fix the economy, but she isn't sure who that is. “I don't have any training to be able to figure all of that out,” she told me.

It's something I heard a lot recently. Pew Research Center, the polling company, put me in touch with a group of voters who were on the fence about the candidates and were willing to have a journalist contact them as the election neared. These swing voters represented many demographics, from various corners of the country. I spoke to a young soldier in Texas, a grandmother in Minnesota, and a 69-year-old teacher's assistant in Mississippi, among others. Some of them had confusing views. One Tea Party supporter wanted to raise taxes on the rich and strengthen entitlements, like Medicare and Social Security. The teacher's assistant, who said she was voting for Romney, echoed these traditionally Democratic sentiments. She had never been able to figure out where either party stood on these issues, she told me.

We've heard for months that this election is about the economy, and polls show it's by far the issue that people care most about. We've also heard pundits complain that the election will come down to the vicissitudes of undecideds who don't understand these issues. Yet as I spoke to a sampling of voters, it became clear that while, it's true, they knew little about economic policy, most agreed on basic economic questions. And while some leaned Democrat and others Republican, the questions they had and the beliefs they held represented a broad center of American opinion.

In a series of polls going back decades, the Pew Research Center and other surveyors have shown that America is divided on many economic issues in name only. A majority of Americans support Social Security and Medicare, a progressive tax system and a government that regulates business in the public interest, but most share deep skepticism about the government's ability to do all this well. Compared with much of U.S. history and to many countries around the world today, America has already settled its most significant economic debates. From the 1780s to the 1930s, there were a series of profound economic questions that fueled deep discord. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton fought over the basic nature of the new U.S. economy (agrarian or industrial?) and who would control the nation's currency (a central bank or the nation's private banks?). Hamilton won the first battle and the second one wasn't resolved until the creation of the Fed in 1913.

In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, the debates covered basics like whether the federal government could even regulate business or tax citizens at all. Then the 1930s brought all sorts of fundamental changes, including the development of Social Security, modern financial regulation and a government-managed housing industry.

Crudely speaking, Franklin D. Roosevelt shifted the nation to the left during the '30s, and the nation has spent the last four decades moving slightly right. We are now in the process of fine-tuning. This becomes particularly apparent when comparing the United States with other industrialized nations. The United States is the rare state without a socialist or communist political party that wins significant votes. Europeans often have national debates about fundamental economic issues: how much industry should be government-controlled; what does private enterprise owe the state; what is the relationship between the European Union's economic authorities and its member states. These debates are mild compared with the ones raging in China, India, Brazil and other rapidly industrializing nations.

Perhaps the best example of this economic consensus are the two candidates for the presidency. For someone who lived in the first 150 years or so of this country, it might be hard to see what's so different about the economic policies of and . Romney seeks a 25 percent top corporate tax rate, and Obama is proposing 28 percent. Romney wants to eliminate capital-gains taxes for the typical investor and leave the rate at 15 percent for higher earners. Obama wants to increase it to 20 percent. They differ on how to tax the highest incomes. But for most Americans, the distinctions might be mistaken for a rounding error. Both men strongly support expanding free trade and maintaining close to the same level of Social Security and welfare benefits. Neither has any specific plan to radically change the way we regulate business, the environment or the workplace.

Tuesday Reading: Some Doctors Text Their Teenage Patients


A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

Obama Ad Features Someone Big, Yellow and Feathery


If President Obama loses the election next month, his ad makers may have a second career on “The Daily Show.”

A new television ad by Mr. Obama's campaign would fit right in on the sarcasm-laced comedy show. Or it could be an opening skit for “Saturday Night Live.”

The ad has a serious intention: attacking Mitt Romney for suggesting he would crack down on public funding for public television, while not saying he'd crack down on big banks.

“Bernie Madoff. Ken Lay. Dennis Kozlowski. Criminals. Gluttons of greed,” the ad's narrator says as images of three of Wall Street's most notorious white-collar villains are put on the screen. “And the evil genius who towered over them?”

In the mirrored glass of a towering office building, the ad shows a reflection of: Big Bird.

“One man has the guts to speak his name,” the ad says, followed by Mr. Romney's mention of the yellow Muppet at the de bate and at rallies.

“Big. Yellow. A menace to our economy,” the narrator continues. “Mitt Romney knows it's not Wall Street you have to worry about, it's Sesame Street.”

“Mitt Romney,” the ad concludes. “Taking on our enemies, no matter where they nest.”

The end of the ad? Big Bird, sleeping in a nest.

The Republican National Committee responded within hours of the ad's release, but apparently they didn't think it was funny.

In a release to reporters, a spokeswoman for the committee noted that Mr. Obama has mentioned “Big Bird” and Elmo” 13 times since Wednesday's debate, but said the president has not talked about Libya or the economy.

“President Obama has offered voters only complaints and false attacks, making Sesame Street characters the cornerstone of his campaign” said Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. “While President Obama has managed to come up with some Sesame Street themed one-liners that escaped him on debate night, he has failed to come up with a plan for a second term beyond his unyielding commitment to raising taxes.”

The Republicans also posted a graphic, using an image of Sesame Street's “The Count” to make their point.

A Move Toward Romney in Polls, but Will It Last?


For weeks in August and September, while conservative pundits increasingly began writing off Mitt Romney‘s campaign as hapless and hopeless, top aides to the Republican presidential hopeful privately preached patience and resolve.

“Romney took a hit,” a top adviser to Mr. Romney conceded in late September, after Mr. Romney's poll numbers fell in the wake of his comment about how “47 percent” of Americans were dependent on government and saw themselves as victims.

“But nothing that a candidate has said in September has ever determined a race unless it was ‘your honor, I plead guilty,'” the adviser said, waving aside those who declared the race over. “It's O.K. to think for yourself. Resist the urge to follow.”

Mr. Romney's debate performance last Wednesday was just the kind of moment that his advisers were waiting and hoping for: a single event that quickly erased the gloom and doom surround ing his White House bid and provided new momentum for his campaign.

In rallies over the weekend, Mr. Romney has been a different candidate. His voice seems stronger, more confident. His advisers and surrogates are happier and less defensive. And his supporters are telling pollsters that they are finally proud to support his candidacy.

A new Pew Research poll released Monday found that Mr. Romney's supporters are more engaged and more enthusiastic about their candidate than they have ever been during this election season. That appears to have translated into a narrowing race, with several polls showing President Obama‘s national lead shrinking in the wake of the debate.

Now, with 28 days and three more debates left, Mr. Romney and his advisers have to worry about another quick turnaround - this time in Mr. Obama's direction.

The sizable shift toward Mr. Romney after the first debate is a perfect example of the unpredicta ble role that momentum plays in American presidential campaigns.

In 1980, George H.W. Bush claimed to have “the Big Mo” after defeating Ronald Reagan in the Iowa caucuses. “What we will have is momentum,” Mr. Bush told CBS's Bob Schieffer that morning. “We will look forward to Big Mo being on our side, as they say in athletics.”

Since then, academic researchers have documented the tendency for presidential hopefuls to surge forward on the strength of single events, buoyed by a sudden infusion of confidence, money and public support.

It was just that kind of momentum that seemed to be carrying Mr. Obama toward a re-election victory in the late summer and early fall this year.

A series of mistakes and missteps by Mr. Romney's campaign and an aggressive advertising effort by the Democrats had gotten the ball rolling for Mr. Obama. Polls in September all showed him gaining nationally and in all of the important battleground states. The carping among conservatives had begun with Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for Mr. Reagan, calling his campaign “incompetent” and a “rolling calamity.”

That all ended abruptly on Wednesday, when Mr. Obama's lackluster debate performance served as a surprising contrast to the aggressive, energetic and somewhat more politically moderate version of Mr. Romney who showed up in Denver.

By the end of the debate momentum had clearly shifted, as evidenced by the faces of the advisers to both candidates: Mr. Romney's aides were as ecstatic as Mr. Obama's were depressed.

Such moments are sometimes fleeting, as Mr. Bush discovered in 1980 (and other winners in Iowa and New Hampshire have found out). The momentum behind Mr. Bush quickly evaporated and Mr. Reagan went on to defeat his rival for the Republican nomination that year.

For Mr. Romney, the danger is that his newfound popularity does not necessarily reflect a fundamental altering of the dynamics of the race against Mr. Obama. A 90-minute debate - even one watched by 70 million people - does not change the Obama campaign's field operations in swing states or take away the trappings of the presidency that Mr. Obama enjoys.

And there remain at least three more opportunities for Mr. Obama's team to return the favor, seizing momentum back from his Republican rival as quickly as they lost it.

The first chance comes on Thursday, when Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. faces Mr. Romney's running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, for their only debate.

Vice-presidential debates are often inconsequential, but Mr. Biden has an opportunity to remedy Mr. Obama's lack of interest with his typical, over-the-top intensity. If Mr. Biden can avoid making any gaffes - or if Mr. Ryan seems ill-prepared - momentum could shift.

But the biggest moments ahead are the two remaining presidential face-offs. The next one will be a town-hall-style debate betwe en Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama on Oct. 16. The last debate, which will focus on foreign policy, will be on Oct. 22.

Mr. Obama's aides have already signaled that the president intends to be much more aggressive in the next debate. David Axelrod, the president's chief campaign strategist, told reporters that Mr. Obama will approach the final two debates with the idea that he “can't allow someone to stand there and manhandle the truth.”

In the wake of the debate, Mr. Obama's team has gone on the attack, accusing Mr. Romney of lying during the debate about his real record. The point of the attacks? To slow down Mr. Romney's momentum.

The president got some help from the monthly jobs numbers two days after the debate. The surprise drop in the unemployment rate, from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent, provided a new and better story line for Mr. Obama just when he needed it.

But the recent polling shows clear movement in Mr. Romney's direction. The question now i s whether he can sustain that momentum for another 28 days - or whether Mr. Obama can steal it back.

From the Magazine: Would a Romney Loss Lead to Republican Soul-Searching?

Illustration by Matt Dorfman

Not long ago, David Winston, a leading pollster in the Republican Party, listed for me some of the empirical reasons that should be winning the election. Since 1968, Winston said, only six presidents had run for re-election at a time when the unemployment rate was above 6 percent, and five of them lost. (The exception was Ronald Reagan, whose unemployment rate, while over 7 percent, had dropped almost three full points since his election.) Since 1948, when the government started keeping such statistics, the country experienced a total of 82 months with an unemployment rate of more than 8 percent, and 43 of those months came under President Obama - more than the previous 11 administrations combined. George H. W. Bush's economy grew at triple the rate of Obama's during his last quarter before the election, and he never stood a chance.

Obama hasn't won anything yet, of course, and on the day Winston and I talked, Romney still had three debates in which to make his case. But in Republican circles, you can already hear the howls of agony and recrimination. “When you have unemployment that high, and the economy is perceived to be as weak as it is, the door is wide open for a challenger, irrespective of party,” Winston told me. “You have to lay out the alternative so that people have something to go to.” The main question facing the party, should Romney lose, will be this: Was the fateful flaw the candidate's inability to articulate that alternative, or was it the alternative itself?

Recent history would suggest that a second straight presidential defeat would prompt a serious rethinking of the Republican agenda, especially because the party would have lost four of the last six presidential elections (and the margins of victory in both winning elections were narrower than Michele Bachmann's mind). Democrats were in a similar position after 1988, when Bill Clinton and other centrists fought to modernize the party's fossilized message. A decade later, after Clinton's successive victories, George W. Bush sought to recast Republicans under the banner of “compassionate conservatism,” staking out more salable positions on education and immigration.

You could certainly make the case that conservative doctrine in 2012 is courting obsolescence. The party's core solutions to all manner of economic problems - the lowering of marginal tax rates and the loosening of regulations - had a lot more resonance in Ronald Reagan's day, when the highest tax rate stood at 70 percent (it's now half that) and before the unfettered banking system nearly took down the American economy. And while Paul Ryan may be right that most Americans are open to the conservative critique of costly entitlement programs, they don't appear to trust conservatives to fix the problem. This is why Romney's “47 percent” comment proved so devastating - not because he blithely dismissed the votes of nearly half the electorate but because he reinforced the image of a party whose real agenda was to dismantle the federal safety net and then go home.

Meanwhile, as the country grows more diverse, Republicans rely ever more heavily on old, white, male voters. “The path the party is on, which is to extract more and more votes from a shrinking portion of the country, a path that offers the middle class frighteningly little, is not a sustainable path,” argues David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter and insurrectionist blogger. John Weaver, who ran Jon Huntsman's failed campaign, puts it this way: “We need to have a discussion about the future of our party. It won't be a pleasant discussion, as family discussions often aren't, but we need to have it.”

And yet, while the likes of Frum and Weaver await the Grand Debate, there are good reasons to believe they'll be waiting awhile, even if their candidate is beat. In that case, conservatives would have no problem convincing themselves that the blame lies entirely with Romney, who has mostly proved himself to be every bit the timid, error-prone candidate many feared he would be - and nothing like the model of management efficiency they hoped for. Political partisans will go to extraordinary lengths to blame the messenger rather than question the orthodoxies of their message. In this case, they would barely have to exert themselves.

Anguished Republicans might console themselves too with the idea that incumbent presidents are historically difficult to dislodge. Three incumbents have been booted from office in the last 36 years; all of them were weakened by primary challengers, and two of the three were further undone by serious third-party candidacies. Before that, you have to go back to Herbert Hoover to find a president who ran for re-election and lost.

The Early Word: Second Wind


Today's Times

  • Just two weeks ago Mitt Romney's advisers openly discussed trying to win the White House without Ohio, but his campaign is now displaying renewed vigor in its fight for the state's 18 electoral votes, Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg report. After a nonpartisan poll suggested that the Republican candidate has wiped out the president's lead among voters nationally, Ohio has joined other swing states at the heart of Mr. Romney's strategy.
  • A new and potentially potent kind of “super PAC” is taking aim at the House races, picking a handful of Congressional contests in which the airwaves are less cluttered, and transforming them with a barrage of outside money, Nicholas Confessore and Jo Craven McGinty report. The proliferation of smaller super PACs has spurred far more money to be spent far earlier than in the 2010 elections, and is swamping incumbents and challengers alike.
  • The House is more polarized than at any time in the last century, and no matter the outcome of November's election, it is about to be even more divided, Jennifer Steinhauer writes. A combination of redistricting, retirements and campaign spending by special interests is pushing out the moderate, consensus-building members of both parties.

Around the Web

  • Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana will head the Republican Governors Association in 2013, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey will lead the organization in 2014, Politico reports.

Happenings in Washington

  • Michelle Obama will speak to supporters and attend campaign fund-raisers in Virginia.
  • Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, will discuss how the presidential election should influence Democrats' approach to tax policy later this year.