While the ABC and CBS morning shows on Thursday focused on a tightening presidential race following Mitt Romney's winning performance in the first debate, on NBC's Today, political director Chuck Todd used the network's new swing state polling to argue that the debate was "not as helpful to Romney as he might have hoped." Prompting co-host Savannah Guthrie conclude: "Alright, so the debate had maybe not as much of an impact."
In contrast, opening CBS This Morning, co-host Charlie Rose announced: "New polls show the race between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney is getting tighter." Similarly opening ABC's Good Morning America, co-host George Stephanopoulos proclaimed: "High stakes and high pressure as new polls show Mitt Romney closing the gap in some key states."
Glossing over similar tightening in the latest NBC News/Marist poll, Todd and Guthrie emphasized President Obama still having a small lead in Ohio. Guthrie spun it this way: "I guess you could say that Romney has the trend line but Ohio is still a problem for him."
Todd eagerly touted early voting numbers as evidence of Obama's strength in the state: "1 in 5 Ohio voters, according to our survey, have already voted. And among those folks, the President leads 2 to 1 margin, 60, over 67% that he gets among those who have already voted. And that is a substantial organizational advantage."
He then seemed to use those numbers to justify an oversampling of Democrats in the poll: "And that is why, for instance, our likely voters, we have a lot more Democrats than maybe some people think will end up in the Ohio poll and that's because a lot of Democrats have already voted."
Prior to downplaying the impact of the first debate, Todd highlighted another finding in the poll: "...over 90% said the debates made no difference in their vote. It was something about 6% and 7% respectively who actually said the debates mattered to their vote."
On CBS, correspondent Jan Crawford cited the latest CBS News/New York Times poll and observed: "Romney is really gaining ground in our polls because of his debate performance last week."
In an interview with Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod moments later, This Morning co-host Norah O'Donnell pressed: "David, we see a number of battleground state polls out this morning, including those by CBS News and the New York Times, that show a tightening of the contest in several of these states. Can Joe Biden tonight stop the slide in the polls for President Obama?"
On ABC, correspondent Jon Karl saw Romney gaining steam:
We've seen in national polls, Romney has gained on the President in some cases, actually moved ahead of the President. Now, what we're seeing that Romney is gaining in the key battleground states, where the race really matters. He's gained, put it to virtually a tie. In Florida and Virginia, he was behind in both states. He had been behind in both states. And even in Ohio, the President still has a lead there. But in polls this morning, Romney is gaining.
Only NBC seemed eager to throw a wet blanket on the Romney surge.
Here is a transcript of the October 11 Today exchange between Guthrie and Todd:
GUTHRIE: Chuck, let's start with your new poll. Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, these are the battleground states, we'll put the results up on the screen. And what we see is a tight, tight dead heat in Florida and in Virginia. In Ohio, you still see the President hanging on to a lead. I guess you could say that Romney has the trend line but Ohio is still a problem for him.
TODD: It is. And the biggest finding in our Ohio poll, Savannah, is the early vote. 1 in 5 Ohio voters, according to our survey, have already voted. And among those folks, the president leads 2 to 1 margin, 60, over 67% that he gets among those who have already voted. And that is a substantial organizational advantage. We know they've been talking about that. And that is why, for instance, our likely voters, we have a lot more Democrats than maybe some people think will end up in the Ohio poll and that's because a lot of Democrats have already voted. Another factor in all three of these polls, Savannah, is that over 90% said the debates made no difference in their vote. It was something about 6% and 7% respectively who actually said the debates mattered to their vote. So that is, while not as helpful to Romney as he might have hoped.
GUTHRIE: Alright, so the debate had maybe not as much of an impact. Where do they stand in terms of favorability ratings?
TODD: Well, this is where there is some good news for Romney. He is now right side up, more people have a favorable view of him in Florida and in Virginia, that's good news. But he still has more of a negative rating in Ohio. More people have an unfavorable view of him in Ohio, than a favorable one. And that is why you're gonna see him spend a lot of time there. He has narrowed that gap from eight points down to six. But in order to get it more, he's going to have to get that personal favorable rating. And we know the President has just been pounding him with negative ad, after negative ad, after negative ad in Ohio.
GUTHRIE: And real quickly on this, where do you see the President's job approval in this poll?
TODD: Well, the one thing I would say is a yellow flag for the President is that job approval rating, particularly in Ohio. So in Florida and Virginia, his job approval is sitting at 48%, it about matches his ballot. That's what happens, what your job approval rating is and what you end up getting on a general election ballot, it's usually the same number. In Ohio, he's at 51, but his job rating's at 47. It is unusual to over-perform your job rating that high. If you're the Romney folks, you sit there and you look at that 47% job approval figure and think, "You know what? We've got a real shot here."