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Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Candidates in Their Own Words: Nov. 1

President Obama at a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wis.:

Now, in the closing weeks of this campaign, Governor Romney has been using all his talents as a salesman to dress up these very same policies that failed our country so badly, the very same policies we've been cleaning up after for the past four years. And he is offering them up as change. (Laughter.)He's saying he's the candidate of change.

Well, let me tell you, Wisconsin, we know what change looks like. (Applause.)And what the governor is offering sure ain't change. Giving more power back to the biggest banks isn't change. Leaving millions without health insurance isn't change. Another $5 trillion tax cut that favors the wealthy isn't change. Turning Medicare into a voucher is change, but we don't want that change. (Laughter.) Refusing to answer questions about the details of your policies isn't change. Ruling out compromise by pledging to rubber-stamp the Tea Party's agenda as president - that's defin itely not change. In fact, that's exactly the attitude in Washington that needs to go.

Now, here's the thing, Wisconsin. After four years as president, you know me by now. You may not agree with every decision I've made. You may be frustrated at the pace of change. But you know what I believe. You know where I stand. You know I'm willing to make tough decisions, even when they're not politically convenient.

Mitt Romney on Thursday at Integrity Windows and Doors, in Roanoke, Va.:

I want to take full advantage of our oil, our gas, our nuclear, our renewables. I know that you know that when we have more plentiful energy we can have North American energy independence within eight years. What that means, of course, is lower prices at the pump and lower cost for fuel at your home. It also means jobs. And that's the reason I mention it. Because it's not only jobs in the energy sector - coal and gas and oil. But it's also jobs in manufacturing, like right here. Bec ause there is a lot of energy used in the lumber products arena, making fiberglass, assembling these products, manufacturing them.

When energy costs are lower, then we are able to create more manufacturing jobs. And that's why it's so critical. We have this ace in the hole: this energy. And the president has been stalling on this for the last four years. I won't stall. We are going to unleash the power of our energy resources and get America working again.

The Caucus Click: Biden on the Move

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. jogged across a street to meet a line of students at a school on Thursday in Muscatine, Iowa.Josh Haner/The New York Times Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. jogged across a street to meet a line of students at a school on Thursday in Muscatine, Iowa.

Romney to Visit Pennsylvania on Sunday

PHILADELPHIA - With signs of the presidential race tightening in Pennsylvania, a state long considered out of his reach, Mitt Romney is planning a last-minute visit to the state.

The Romney campaign confirmed on Thursday that the Republican nominee will hold a rally on Sunday, likely in the Philadelphia area, but it did not have a location set.

Earlier this week, the campaign and a pro-Romney “super PAC” made an advertising push into Pennsylvania, a state that has been considered strong for President Obama.

Because of the surge of Republican ads, the Obama campaign was forced to spend more than $1.5 million here this week - money it could have used elsewhere. An Obama campaign official said Wednesday that it was not taking the state for granted and would further increase its advertising in the state.

A poll released this week by The Philadelphia Inquirer showed Mr. Obama ahead by 6 points. In an Inquirer poll conducted Oct. 23 through Oct. 25, t he president had an 8 point advantage.

Pennsylvania remains a tough battle for Mr. Romney. No Republican has carried the state in the presidential race since 1988.

Follow Jeremy W. Peters on Twitter at @ jwpetersNYT .

In Massachusetts, a Break From the Usual Campaign Ads

BOSTON - At first, the newest advertisement from the Republican fighting to wrest Massachusetts's 6th Congressional District from its Democratic incumbent seems like any one of the ads that run almost endlessly here, either for this race or the tight Senate contest between Senator Scott P. Brown and Elizabeth Warren. Peppy music plays over a photograph of the candidate, Richard Tisei, who tells viewers, once again, that he approves this message.

And then, for 30 calming seconds, it shows nothing but a cliff-ridged beach, lighted by the sun on the horizon, as waves lap the shore.

“Because you deserve a break from all the campaign ads,” reads a line of text underneath footage of Good Harbor Beach, in Gloucester, Mass.

“Ahh,” a female voice says at the end. “That was nice.”

The ad vertisement is something of an oasis in the feisty and sometimes personal battle between Mr. Tiesi and Representative John Tierney, the eight-term congressman whose candidacy has been weakened by his family ties to an illegal offshore gambling business, run by his brothers-in-law.

Another ad run by Mr. Tisei raised questions about Mr. Tierney's character in connection with that case. Meanwhile, a recent advertisement from Mr. Tierney's campaign compares Mr. Tisei to Tea Party Republicans - political kryptonite to many in this deep-blue state - calling him “too extreme.”

“We thought we'd throw something that was a little avant garde out there,” said Jennifer Drogus, a spokeswoman for Mr. Tisei's campaign, which she said made a small cable buy for the ad. “Everybody gets inundated with political ads during the campaign season, so we just wanted to do something a little bit different.”

According to polling earlier this fall, Mr. Tisei is within str iking distance of defeating Mr. Tierney and becoming this state's first Republican congressman in 15 years.

Poll Watch: Track the Polls in the Race\'s Final Days

Less than a week to Election Day, a number of national polls are showing a close race between President Obama and Mitt Romney among likely voters.

A Grant Program for Some Storm-Weary Property Owners

Homeowners in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut whose homes were badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy may want to consider whether filing a claim for repairs under their flood insurance policies is their best option.

In particular, property owners who had damage from last year's Hurricane Irene, and may face another round of insurance claims from Sandy, may have had enough and be ready to move to a less flood-prone area, said Marshall Gilinsky, a lawyer with Anderson Kill & Olick in New York.

In that case, they should look at the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which is made available in major disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The National Flood Insurance Program is intended to compensate homeowners and help pay for repairs. But the hazard mitigation program aims to help communities buy out property owners and help them rebuild or buy on higher ground; the home is demolished and the lot left vacant. The program uses primarily fede ral funds and is coordinated through the city or town where the property is located. The idea is to help communities remove structures from risk-prone areas. The municipality agrees to keep it undeveloped in the future.

For details of the program as it relates to properties damaged by Hurricane Sandy, homeowners can see state-specific announcements from FEMA and from their state government, or find local disaster assistance locations from FEMA's disaster information Web site.

In general, properties may qualify if they are in a high-risk flood zone and if they suffered “substantial” damage from the storm - generally meaning the cost to repair is more than 50 percent of the fair-market value of the house before the storm, Mr. Gilinsky said. (Mr. Gilinsky became familiar with the hazard mitigation grant program while assisting homeowners in Vermont after the state was hit last year by Hurricane Irene.)

Because of the cost-of-re pairs criteria, the hazard mitigation program may not be suitable for expensive second homes. But for owners of more modest primary homes that were heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy - and might also have suffered damage from Hurricane Irene - the mitigation program may be worth considering. “This is an idea of appeal and interest for people who have been through the ringer,” he said.

Would you consider relocating from a flood-prone area, if funds were made available?

Examining the Effect of the Storm on Polling

In the final days of this intensely close election season, polling has taken on an added layer of uncertainty with millions of people stranded without electricity and without phones in several states. It may seem even silly or ridiculous to those experiencing the worst storm damage in their lives to talk about polling (or for that matter receive a survey call on a cellphone whose charged battery is indeed a lifeline), but for the data-obsessed and for pollsters, storm Sandy has complicated matters just a bit.

Some pollsters have been forced to scrap plans to poll certain local races or Congressional districts even if the contests are highly competitive, because a sizable portion of the electorate may not have electricity or is dealing with severe weather damage. Others, like The New York Times and CBS News, whose pollsters conduct interviews in-house in Manhattan, on Sunday cut polling off by a few days ahead of the storm and released a national survey with a smaller sample than expected. The Times probably will not go back in the field at all before Election Day. (Separate polls of Ohio, Virginia and Florida conducted in collaboration with Quinnipiac University and CBS News were also stopped on Sunday, but they had been under way since Oct. 23.)

Fox News, as another example, noted in releasing its national poll on Wednesday that “interviews in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy were completed before Monday evening, when the hurricane made landfall.” The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion wrapped up polling in New Hampshire â€" one of the battleground states where it has been regularly conducting surveys with NBC News and The Wall Street Journal - on Monday night, before any power failures occurred, according to Lee M. Miringoff, director of the institute.

Other major organizations are making adjustments as they gear up for the finish line on Tuesday. Gallup, for example, is resuming its daily tracking poll on Th ursday, after deciding Monday to stop polling when it determined that “the storm compromised our ability to provide a nationally representative sample,” said Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup. And even though it is the last week of pre-election polling, Gallup has decided not to issue reports day to day, because of the three-day hiatus, “or lacuna,” as Mr. Newport labeled it, while the surveys were suspended. Adding fresh data to last week's seven-day rolling tracker “didn't seem to make sense or to provide valuable information to the public,” he added. So Gallup plans, at least for now, to release Thursday-Sunday tracking results this weekend.

A few polling organizations have stayed in the field throughout the storm and its aftermath, and some continued daily tracking polls. One set of polls that meets The Times's polling standards, those by ABC News and The Washington Post, has released a survey each day this week at 5 p.m., reporting a four-day wa ve of polling of 1,288 likely voters. (Frankly, the tracker has moved little in the last few days, what with the presidential race extremely tight.)

Cliff Zukin, a former president of the American Association of Public Opinion Research (Aapor), cautioned against interpreting too much from tracking surveys conducted after the storm and also against making strong comparisons to polls taken before Hurricane Sandy made landfall Monday evening. Mr. Zukin, a professor at Rutgers University, said that for some, the storm had achieved a prominence in terms of public interest that is as dominant if not more so as the election.

Of the tracking polls, he said, “We should be less confident in them in that there are two major things going on in the country right now rather than just one major thing. So polls may pick up a change in vote intention because citizens believe Obama's doing a good job with the storm or it may be that we have m ore response problems than we had before.” The storm and its aftermath, Mr. Zukin added, is “just a big, big high-profile item that is out there that a week ago was unthinkable.” He said the storm could not only affect people's frames of reference but also, in the end, their willingness to actually vote.

Mr. Zukin said he was less concerned about surveys that span the next several days, because adjustments can be made through various callback procedures and other means.

For those surveys conducted now through the rest of the weekend, some analysts and pollsters have added even more layers of data sets to their analysis, to take into account the possibility of extremely poor response rates or high refusal rates in those areas like New Jersey, where two million people are still without power, many without landlines or working cellphones. Power grid reports and storm damage reports, overlaid by ZIP codes or county, have been pored over to try to ensure that th e surveys collect a representative pool of voters.

Pew Research Center went into the field on Wednesday night and hopes to complete its final pre-election survey by the end of the weekend. Scott Keeter, the director of survey research at Pew and a former president of Aapor, said that Pew's polling team had been analyzing what portion of the public would be unreachable because of power problems and planned to monitor the results and assess the response rates from affected counties each night.

Whether a national survey conducted now would show anomalies by missing residents in hardest-hit New Jersey, which in 2008 went comfortably for Barack Obama, or other areas without electricity or absent those who left evacuation zones, is an unknown and will have to be watched closely, Mr. Keeter said. Given the electorate in New Jersey, it is possible that any omission of Democrats â€" there or in other states â€" because of the storm could be offset a bit by gaps in reachi ng people without electricity or facing storm damage in places that are more Republican, like in the mountains or in eastern Ohio, he said.

“We debated delaying a day, we debated canceling the poll if we thought it too biased,” Mr. Keeter said, adding that the latter would still be an option. Perhaps more likely, after reviewing the composition of this survey's sample in comparison to previous Pew surveys, would be to determine whether any type of correction or weighting adjustment would be worth doing to achieve a representative sample.

“Is there some correction that could be applied that would do more good than harm?” Mr. Keeter asked. “That's always a question when you start adding funky weighting or things that you haven't done before.” But, like many other major independent pollsters, Mr. Keeter said Pew would not weight the results to party identification from previous election turnouts.

Other pollsters have had to switch late-election pla ns altogether, and to cancel scheduled surveys in a few hotly contested races. Donald Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute, outside Albany, said he decided to forgo polling in the 1st Congressional District on Long Island, where Representative Tim Bishop, the Democratic incumbent, and Randy Altschuler, a Republican businessman, are locked in a rematch that Mr. Altschuler narrowly lost two years ago. Siena has also canceled polling in the State Senate District 15 in Queens. “Obviously it threw us into turmoil,” Mr. Levy said, and so they shifted some resources into races upstate where voters were largely unaffected by the storms. He was still assessing conditions in Westchester County, where the 18th Congressional District is situated.

“Never in my career have I spent time studying power outage reports,” Mr. Levy said. “But here I am collating the power outage reports across New York State to try to determine if we can surgically go in, switch our pl ans and surgically go into some districts.”

Lastly, some of the pollsters interviewed (several of whom were without electricity themselves this week) wondered aloud how those in storm-affected areas would feel about actually voting next week, if they remain isolated without electricity or Internet service, and if their polling places are shifted around or consolidated â€" conditions that could cause even greater confusion.

At Edison Research, which conducts next week's exit polls for the National Election Pool that includes the major television networks and The Associated Press, some telephone polling is already under way nationally and in states with significant percentages of early voting patterns to augment actually exit polling at precincts nationwide on Tuesday. To a great extent, even though Edison was in the field before and after the storm, and in states that were not affected Monday and Tuesday, there was little disruption of interviewing, said Joe Len ski, executive vice president of Edison.

On election night, however, Mr. Lenski said, “I will not be surprised if turnouts are way down in New Jersey and New York and other places.”

Kate Phillips is the editor of News Surveys and Election Analysis for The New York Times.

TimesCast Politics: Campaign Returns to Full Speed

Getty Images
  • 0:22  Presidential Race Is Back in Full Swing

    Michael D. Shear reports as both candidates are holding campaign events in key swing states on Thursday.

  • 5:19  The Money Race

    Nicholas Confessore looks at the money race as the election enters its final stages.

  • 9:08  Maine Senate Race

    A look at the Senate race in Maine, where independent candidate Angus King hasn't decided which party he will caucus with.

    < /li>
  • 13:11  The Battle for the Senate

    Jonathan Weisman looks at key Senate races around the country.

  • 18:32  Social Media Check-In

    Ben Smith of BuzzFeed discusses how Hurricane Sandy has stolen the attention from the campaign on social media.

An Option for All That Halloween Candy

If you work at home, like me, and have children, like me, you are perhaps struggling (or will be soon if you live in the area hit by Hurricane Sandy) to stay away from their giant bags laden with Halloween candy. As always, the Milky Ways are calling my name.

So you may be interested to know about a program called “Halloween Candy Buyback.” Under the program, dentists across the country agree to take your children's excess candy, and forward it on to “Operation Gratitude,” a nonprofit group that packs it into care packages for United States troops serving overseas.

Some dentists offer a financial incentive, like paying youngsters a dollar a pound, while others simply take the candy off your hands. You can find participating dentists by going to the Web site and typing in your ZIP code. (It's always best to call ahead before showing up with your collection, to find out details and to confirm the deadline for dropping off the candy.)

If no dentists in your area are participating, you can still ship the candy yourself to Operation Gratitud. (No financial incentives are offered for this option, and the shipping costs are on you.) Organizers ask that you separate chocolate from nonchocolate candy, to avoid problems with melting.

Candy collected from the Halloween drive ends up in packages that arrive for the December holidays, said Rich Hernandez, who helps oversee operations for Operation Gratitude in Van Nuys, Calif. He said he expected to begin receiving hundreds of boxes of candy daily, starting next week. While many troops are coming home, there are still thousands of service men and women in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Africa and aboard aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region, he said.

What are you doing with all of that Halloween candy? Do you plan to keep it all?

Romney and Obama Campaigns Leaking Web Site Visitor Data

The presidential campaign sites BarackObama.com and MittRomney.com have recently ratcheted up their use of third-party Web trackers. These are companies, like ad networks and data brokers working on behalf of the campaigns, that collect information about users' online activities to show political ads to people tailored to their own interests and beliefs.

Spokesmen for each campaign have separately said that their own campaign had put safeguards in place to protect that user data, as Charles Duhigg and I reported in an article published in The New York Times on Oct. 28.

But now a new study by Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student in computer science and law at Stanford University, reports that both sites are leaking information about site visitors to a number of third-party trackers operating on their pages.

Several pages on the Obama site included a user's personal information in the page title at the top of the page or in the URL address, Mr. Mayer said, t hereby giving third parties operating on the site the opportunity to collect identifying data. The information flowing to third parties, he said, variously included the username; the proper name under which a person registered; and their street address and ZIP code.

On the Romney site, Mr. Mayer said, he found that a number of pages included the user's name in the page title. Many pages also included a unique numerical ID number in the URL, which flowed to third parties, he said.

“Are the campaigns identifying their supporters to third-party trackers? Are they directly undermining the anonymity properties that they are so quick to invoke?” Mr. Mayer wrote in a blog post published on Thursday morning. “Yes, they are.”

Spokesmen for the campaigns did not immediately return e-mails seeking comment.

Mr. Mayer tested the Obama and Romney sites by registering as a user and examining the page codes and layouts that resulted as he visited the sites.

In registering for the Obama site with his e-mail address, for example, Mr. Mayer found that the site by default assigned him a username that was the first part of his e-mail address. On certain pages on the site, he reported, that username appeared in the URL, thereby sharing part of his e-mail address with ten tracking companies operating on the page. Because many consumers tend to use the same e-mail address or username on many sites, leaking such data could allow third parties to link other public accounts on the Web to individual users, Mr. Mayer said.

Meanwhile, after Mr. Mayer found that the Romney site leaked his member ID number in the URL, he logged out and then immediately tried to access his own information on the site using that ID number - a tactic a third party who collected that data could hypothetically use. When he used that ID number on the site without being logged in, the site showed a message that said “Access Denied.” At the same time, h e said, the very same “access denied” page leaked more information on that page: the name under which he had registered.

I registered on both campaign sites on Wednesday night and had a similar experience.

The Obama site automatically assigned me a user name -nsinger - taken from my e-mail address that was visible in the URL on various pages. Using a tracker identification program called Ghostery, I found four different trackers that could collect that information.

On the Romney site, certain pages leaked the ID number I had been assigned in the URL. Other pages, I noted, leaked my ZIP code or state in the URL.

Advertising industry executives have long argued that third-party tracking is beneficial to online consumers because it helps brands show relevant digital ads. They also argue the data collection about online consumers is “anonymous” because the third parties do not collect identifying information like people's names and home addresses.

But Mr. Mayer said his study, and previous research by other computer experts, indicated that many sites leak users' personal information to third parties - challenging the claims about “anonymous” data.

“I think that for both campaigns this leakage is likely totally inadvertent,” Mr. Mayer said in a phone interview. “But claiming this tracking data is anonymous just ignores the reality.”

He also took a reporter to task for failing to sufficiently investigate the campaigns' claims about their data protection practices.

“The Gray Lady also deserves a light rap on the knuckles for insufficiently scrutinizing the campaigns' anonymity assertions,” Mr. Mayer wrote.

Point taken.

The Caucus Click: Romney in Virginia

Mitt Romney greeted supporters at a campaign event on Thursday in Roanoke, Va. It was the first of three events that Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, had scheduled for Virginia.Stephen Crowley/The New York Times Mitt Romney greeted supporters at a campaign event on Thursday in Roanoke, Va. It was the first of three events that Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, had scheduled for Virginia.

Labor Unions to Have 128,000 Campaign Volunteers

The A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president, Richard Trumka, said on Thursday that the nation's labor unions would have 128,000 volunteers working on the “final four days” of the 2012 campaign, saying these volunteers would knock on 5.5 million doors and make 5.2 million phone calls.

In a conference call with reporters, Mr. Trumka, who leads a federation of 56 labor unions, said many union members were eager to volunteer to help re-elect President Obama because, he said, Mitt Romney has “the most anti-union, anti-worker platform we've seen for any candidate in our history.”

Mr. Trumka said union members would also distribute two million leaflets at unionized work sites between now and Election Day, noting that that would be on top of 12 million fliers mailed to union members' homes.

Mr. Trumka said the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and its unions would also provide more than 2,000 poll monitors who would work closely with lawyers around the country. “If we see people being d enied the vote, people that hassle them, we will have a rapid response team,” he said.

He predicted that Mr. Obama would win Ohio by three to four percentage points, and said that labor's get-out-the-vote push would help push Mr. Obama over the top there. He said organized labor already has a strong infrastructure in Ohio as a result of its effort last November to repeal a Republican-backed state law that curbed collective bargaining for government employees. After a huge union effort, Ohio residents voted to repeal that law 62 percent to 38 percent.

Mr. Romney's spokesmen have repeatedly said that Mr. Obama has consistently sided with unions over middle-class workers by supporting government policies that, they say, have killed jobs.

Recently, the Romney campaign has run ads in Ohio asserting that Jeep, a recipient of federal bailout money, will soon outsource American jobs to China. Chrysler, Jeep's parent company, is considering opening a facility in China where it would produce Jeeps for sale locally. But Jeep officials say they are expanding their American work force, not cutting it.

Michael Podhorzer, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s political director, maintained that these misleading ads were backfiring and would hurt Mr. Romney in Ohio and neighboring states.

Mr. Trumka also voiced confidence that labor would win a ballot initiative in Michigan, known as Proposal 2, that would enshrine collective bargaining rights in that state's Constitution. Political experts estimate that business, which strongly opposes the proposal, and labor will spend more than $30 million in the ballot fight.

“Proposal 2 is very important because it will prevent future attacks on collective bargaining,” Mr. Trumka said. “If it's successful, we will continue to make efforts like that” in other states to prevent future attacks on collective bargaining, like those in Wisconsin.

Business leaders in Michigan as well as Gov. Ro b Snyder have attacked Proposal 2, saying it would hurt the state's business climate and would be an improper effort to circumvent the legislature and governor.

Mr. Trumka also predicted that labor would defeat a ballot proposal in California, known as Proposition 32, that would bar labor unions from using any union money in political campaign. Mr. Trumka said his side was three points ahead, according to recent polls. He added that if Proposition 32 was approved, unions would likely challenge it as unconstitutional, most likely on the ground that it violates their free speech rights.

In the conference call Mr. Trumka named several Democratic senatorial candidates that labor unions were campaigning for, including Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Amy Knoblauch of Minnesota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Five Senate Races to Watch

If you have followed the battle for the Senate for even a few minutes this election cycle, you probably know that Elizabeth Warren and Senator Scott P. Brown are locked in a tight race in Massachusetts, that comparing Senator Claire McCaskill to a dog appeared not to be additive to Representative Todd Akin's bid to unseat her in Missouri and perhaps have pondered with the rest of the United States Senate which party, if elected, Angus King of Maine would choose to caucus with.

But below we have highlighted five races that may not have been given as much attention but that deserve a little look-see as we cruise toward the end of this campaign.

Republicans assumed, with good reason, that the retirement of Senator Jon Kyl would mean a loss of a senior lawmaker for Arizona, but not of a seat for their party in the Senate. But a tough Republican primary left their nominee Representative Jeff Flake, a well-known and well-established Republican, broke, b ruised and in need of more help than his party expected to give. Democrats in the meantime got the best candidate they could have hoped for in Richard H. Carmona, a former surgeon general in the Bush administration, a Vietnam war hero and Hispanic well known around the state. Mr. Carmona has occasionally closed in on Mr. Flake, though Republicans still count this in their column. A victory by Mr. Carmona seems unlikely, but both sides say, not impossible. This race also offered perhaps the most comic ad war, when Mr. Carmona released a television ad that featured glowing remarks from Mr. Kyl and Senator John McCain, delivered during Mr. Carmona's 2002 confirmation hearing. Neither Mr. Kyl, nor Mr. McCain, who have endorsed Mr. Flake, were amused.

Oh Indiana, what a story you have provided this year. First the state treasurer, Richard Mourdock, picked off the longtime and respected Senator Richard G. Lugar in a Republican pri mary, and seemed poised to coast to victory in this usually reliably Republican state. Democrats maintained hope that Mr. Mourdock's Tea Party imprimatur and fondness for saying that compromise means Democrats doing what Republicans want, might end up hurting him. Instead, he was dinged during a recent debate when he said that “when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Representative Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, who has run this campaign as a moderate and does not support abortion rights, saw a door opening after that debate, and his party helped him push on it. The contest is now a tossup.

Republicans were convinced they could pick up a seat here when Senator Ben Nelson, the two-term Democratic incumbent, decided not to run again, and for months, that is exactly how it looked. Democrats recruited Bob Kerrey, the state's former governor and two-term senator who returned to his native Nebras ka after a decade in New York City. Mr. Kerrey, however, did not get the opponent he wanted in State Senator Deb Fischer, who became the Republican nominee after winning a three-way primary. Nebraska has gotten a lot more conservative since Mr. Kerrey last served, and his double-digit deficit in the polls all fall seemed to presage defeat. However in the last few weeks, Mr. Kerrey has seemed to be gaining ground and he could get a boost from the endorsement Thursday by a former senator, Chuck Hagel, a Republican and fellow wounded Vietnam War veteran, who overlapped with Mr. Kerrey in the Senate. Mr. Kerrey's surge may be too little too late, but he is within the margin of error in some polls, which could make Republicans pay closer attention to this race in the closing days.

Senator Sherrod Brown, a first-term Democrat, is known as a scrappy and energetic campaigner who generally polls ahead of President Obama in this all-important swing state. For months, Democrats have assumed he would easily swat away his Republican challenger, Josh Mandel, the youthful looking state treasurer and a former Marine. But with the enormous hand of outside groups, which have pummeled the state with advertisements, Mr. Mandel has managed to inch closer to Mr. Brown in the polls and forced Democrats look more closely at a race they assumed was safe. Mr. Brown is expected to prevail, but as for Democrats in Arizona, Republicans choose to keep hope alive in this state.

The retirement of Senator Herb Kohl, a four-term Democrat, excited Republicans and Democrats equally, because each side knew a strong candidate in a presidential year would have a shot at a seat. Republicans were particularly emboldened by the failed effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, which they believed was a vote of confidence for their party. What's more, they got the candidate they wanted in Tommy Thompson, the state's former four-term governor . But Mr. Thompson has struggled against Representative Tammy Baldwin, the Democratic candidate, who would be the first openly gay senator should she be elected. Mr. Thompson has been dogged by his lobbyist past, and Ms. Baldwin appears to be benefiting from Democrats coalescing. This tossup race has been leaning in her favor.

- All New York Times House Race Ratings

When an Automated Drug System Is Mute on Cost

A reader, James Turnage, wrote to report his dismay with the automated prescription ordering system operated by Express Scripts, the pharmacy benefits provider he is required to use by his employer.

Mr. Turnage, who lives in northwest Washington, takes some maintenance medication and orders his drugs from Express Scripts using its telephone system. The system, he said, requests his authorization to charge the prescription to a credit card kept on file. But what irks him, he said, is that the system doesn't tell him the amount that will be charged to his card before he gives the approval.

“I have never, at any other vendor, been asked to approve a credit card charge without being provided the cost being authorized,” he said.

He was further dismayed recently, when the system filled a three-month supply of a brand-name drug for about $150, even though the drug was to go off patent and become available as a much less expensive generic.

Mr. Turnage ended up contacting Brian Henry, a vice president at Express Scripts and a company spokesman. As a result, Mr. Turnage said, the company credited him for two months of the brand-name drug - for which he is grateful.

But the voice authorization system hasn't changed, despite several follow-up phone calls, Mr. Turnage said.

Mr. Henry, in an e-mail about Mr. Turnage's situation, said that after he was first contacted by Mr. Turnage, he had the company's “escalation team” look into the inquiry. That led to a “courtesy credit” for the brand-name drug. The company also contacted Mr. Turnage's doctor to get a new prescription for the generic version of the medication, and changed it to generic for the next refill.

But as to Mr. Turnage's concern about the credit card authorization system, Mr. Henry noted that the complexity of prescription drug plans make it difficult for the specific charge to be relayed by the voice system.

“Express Scripts has thousands of clients with many different member/employee co-pay structures and plan designs,” he said in the e-mail. “A voice-activated system could never capture all the differences to provide an accurate cost to a person as it relates to their specific plan.”

He did note, however, that members can find out the amount of their co-payment for their drug prior to ordering and providing credit card information in “two easy ways”:

Members can go to the Express Scripts member Web site to see what their co-payment is under their prescription drug plan. They can also see comparison costs for buying the drug at retail or a mail-order pharmacy.

Members can also use the Express Scripts mobile app, which can be downloaded to their smartphone, to use the same pricing features available on the Web site. With the app, consumers can look up the drug when it's being prescribed by the doctor to see if there are lower cost alternatives.< /p>

“The bottom line is that Express Scripts helps drive down the cost of prescription drugs and we provide members many ways to find out what they will pay before they do so,” Mr. Henry said.

Mr. Turnage said he has to accept that the voice system will not be changing, but he thinks the company's excuse is a “cop out.” He said he has tried to limit the number of online accounts he uses because of the need to maintain various passwords, So, he said, he would prefer not to have to do that to check co-payment amounts.

Do you order prescription drugs by telephone? Does the system make clear what your cost will be?

In Swing States, Obama Leads On Handling of Medicare

President Obama continues to lead Mitt Romney on the question of who would better handle Medicare in the crucial swing states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia, recent polls of likely voters in all three states found. But as Election Day nears Mr. Romney has narrowed the gap in Florida and Virginia.

A series of Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News polls released this week found that while Mr. Romney still trails Mr. Obama on Medicare in all three states, he has made up ground in Florida and Virginia.

Mr. Romney had faced bigger gaps on handling Medicare in both states earlier this year after his choice of Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate focused attention on their plan to reshape Medicare for people under 55 so that they would be given fixed amounts of money in the future to buy private or public coverage.

In Florida 50 percent of likely voters favored Mr. Obama to handle Medicare in the latest poll while 44 percent favor ed Mr. Romney - a six percentage point lead for Mr. Obama, who had led on the issue by as much as 15 points last month. Mr. Obama now has a seven-point advantage on the issue in Virginia, down from 15 points last month. (In Ohio Mr. Obama retains an 11-point edge over Mr. Romney on Medicare.)

Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have called for curbing the growing costs of Medicare by making major changes to the program. Their plan would change Medicare for people who are now under 55 so that when they are eligible for coverage they would no longer receive a government-guaranteed, fee-for-service health plan but rather a fixed amount of money each year that they would use to purchase private health insurance or buy into a version of the existing Medicare program. But they have not provided enough details of their plan to assess how much it might increase out-of-pocket costs for future beneficiaries. Mr. Obama has pledged to preserve Medicare in its current form, but has spoken less about its rising costs.

Mr. Romney now beats Mr. Obama on the Medicare issue among voters who are over 65 in all three states.

Mr. Romney has made the misleading charge that Mr. Obama had “robbed” $716 billion from Medicare to pay for his health care plan. Mr. Obama does count on $716 billion in Medicare savings over the coming decade to help pay for his health care law, but they are largely in the form of reduced reimbursements to hospitals and insurers, not benefits for older Americans. Health care analysts say that repealing the savings - which Mr. Ryan has also counted on in one of his budget plans - would hasten the insolvency of one of the Medicare trust funds.

But on the question of Medicare Mr. Obama has the support of majorities of likely voters under 55 in all three states. Those voters could see Medicare reshaped by the time they are eligible for it under the proposal put forth by Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan.

The danger for Mr. Obama is th at Medicare tends to motivate older voters more than younger ones. Indeed, Medicare was named the No. 1 issue in the campaign by 20 percent of those over 65 in Florida - and by only 3 percent of those under 55.

The Times, in collaboration with Quinnipiac and CBS News, has tracked the presidential race with recurring polls in key battleground states. The three latest surveys, which were conducted Oct. 23 to 28 among likely voters on landlines and cellphones, are the final series in the project. The overall results in each state have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Thursday Reading: Using Hurricane Sandy as a Teaching Tool

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.

  • Long gas lines, clogged roads after Hurricane Sandy. (N.Y./Region)
  • Technology is changing how students learn. (National)
  • Drug company recalls products amid purity questions. (National)
  • Airlines begin a laborious comeback from storm. (Business)
  • This year, gift ideas in triplicate. (Business)
  • F.C.C. details storm-related cell phone problems. (Business)
  • On Twitter, sifting through falsehoods in critical time. (Business)
  • Governors promote lower deductibles for storm damage. (Business)
  • Relief valves for flooded social networks. (Business)
  • Lookout helps find phones with dead batteries. (Gadgetwise)
  • Bedroom neatness as teen-parent battleground. (Home)
  • Marathon photos often make you look awful. (Thursday Styles)
  • What is your hurricane comfort food? (Well)
  • Hurricane Sandy as a teaching tool. (Motherlode)
  • Let me tell you what's wrong with me. (Booming)
  • A bed and breakfast deal proves popular at hotels. (In Transit)
  • How to drink like Hemingway. (Diner's Journal)

The Early Word: Close

Today's Times

  • In the final stretch of the presidential campaign, Mitt Romney has used his stump speeches to move from the partisan edges of the Republican nominating contest to the center of American politics. Michael Barbaro writes that Mr. Romney's tonal shift â€" and his adoption of President Obama's “change” mantra - “risks raising the questions about consistency and authenticity that have dogged him, tracking with his muddied stance” on social issues.
  • Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney put their presidential rivalry on hold for another day to focus on relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy. Mark Landler and Michael Barbaro write that Mr. Obama toured storm-ravaged parts of New Jersey with Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican and a Romney ally, offering a glimmer of bipartisanship. The highly visible presence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency showed big government muscle and forced Mr. Romney to defend his small-government vision in Flor ida, where he turned a campaign stop into a supply drive.
  • In Virginia, the dueling campaigns in a Senate race resumed a fierce contest for votes on the ground. Jonathan Weisman writes that in a race that could be decided by a point or two, the campaigns of former Senator George Allen, a Republican, and former Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, are deploying armies of volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls to voters as the election draws near.
  • The sunny idealism once found in abundance among young campaign volunteers in 2008 has given way to a dreary realism among the crop of volunteers for the 2012 campaigns. Jesse McKinley writes about young volunteers for Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney who have been sobered by a bad economy that is stifling their careers.

    Happening in Washington:

    Economic reports expected today include third-quarter productivity and weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. followed at 10 by data on construction spending for September, weekly mortgage rates and a manufacturing index for October.