Spokespeople for all three networks said they are sticking to their schedules. Three hours over three days for each party's convention. Period. (Though they will stream the rest of the convention activities online). It's the same amount of time they devoted to the 2004 conventions. As a result, the Republicans stand to lose more than half of their audience on Monday night, if 2008 is any indicator. That year the networks averaged 15.2 million viewers, compared to 11.3 million on the cable news channels, according to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism. Already, the campaign is reportedly scrambling to move some of their Monday speakers to other nights, including Ann Romney. Though both sides have spent much of this cycle decrying the mainstream media, this week was a reminder of just how much they rely on it. -- While it's always possible Obama or Romney could end up sweeping all of the battleground states, a few of them (like Ohio and Florida) are virtual "must-wins" for the GOP. But the 3 "swingiest" states likely to provide the winning 270th electoral vote are currently Colorado, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Whichever candidates wins two of those three states is nearly certain to be the next president. -- This election might not seem to be about jobs at the presidential level or even in many Senate races, especially in the era of Todd Akin as a household name. But some unified economic themes are emerging in the battle for the House. Consider the National Republican Congressional Committee's first ad against Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., and former Democratic Rep. Charlie Wilson's first televised attack in his comeback attempt in Ohio. Both sides go after their incumbent opponents on the charge of letting jobs and tax breaks flow to China, the nemesis of struggling American manufacturing communities. Expect to see more of this type of charge in House races throughout the Rust Belt, especially. The presidential nominees (and the reporters covering them) can't seem to stay focused on jobs, but local candidates know what their voters want to hear. -- It's going to be hard to push Akin out of the race if he believes he has a shot to defeat Sen. Claire McCaskill. And while he's likely the underdog now - thanks to the national publicity over his comments along with universal Republican outrage (save Mike Huckabee)- it's hard to see him not running competitively. Missouri is a very socially-conservative state, one that's becoming much more Republican-friendly that its perennial battleground status would indicate. -- While Akin's struggles complicate the GOP's path to a majority in the Senate, it wasn't all bad news for the NRSC this week. Two polls out of Wisconsin show former Gov. Tommy Thompson leading Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin. Thompson's history of appealing to independents and moderate Democrats gives the GOP a great chance at a pick-up in one of the country's most politically polarized states. Baldwin has released two television ads attacking Thompson in the two weeks since the primary, but Badger State voters have known -- and liked, for the most part -- Thompson for a long time, making it more difficult for Democrats to define the former governor on their terms. -- The RNC was successful in its efforts to get the "none of the above" option removed from Nevada's ballots, but the boost it may provide Mitt Romney could also hinder Republican Sen. Dean Heller. The so-called protest vote -- created for voters to show their dissatisfaction with the candidates on the ballot -- is thought to take votes away from challengers looking to unseat the "status quo" incumbent. So while the ruling might help Romney in battleground Nevada, his party's sitting senator may suffer if enough dissatisfied voters who would've opted for the "none of the above" option instead decide to register their disapproval by voting for Heller's challenger, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley. -- Mississippi. Tennessee. Wyoming. None of these states are hospitable for Democrats and it would take A-list all-stars to even run competitively statewide (think former Govs. Ronnie Musgrove, Phil Bredesen and Dave Freudenthal). Yet, at this point, the party isn't even trying, throwing sub-third tier candidates to the wolves. At the same time, the GOP at least is attempting to save face in hopeless Senate races of their own by running third-tier candidates that could actually have a future in politics (see Dan Bongino in Maryland and Wendy Long in New York). Sen. Roger Wicker faces an 82-year-old Democrat who is best known for being confused with someone more famous: Albert Gore, Jr. Democratic primary voters in Tennessee nominated Mark Clayton, a candidate with such staunchly anti-gay and conspiratorial-driven views that the state party disavowed him (the biggest name in the primary field didn't even have elective experience: actress Park Overall). Meanwhile, Tim Chesnut in Wyoming raised $800 (and spent $300) to claim the Democratic nomination over a guy who doesn't live in the state and someone that's lost 20 other races in a row. (Chesnut at least has some credibility in that he holds a county-wide office though he didn't show it in his fundraising.) What would happen if an Akin-like instance happened to the incumbent in any of these states? Would any of these candidates really be considered an acceptable alternative? Hopeless Senate races, if nothing else, at least give major-party candidates a platform, build their statewide name recognition and introduce them to voters that may support them in the future if they compete in more tenable races. Democrats in these states didn't just fail to recruit legitimate candidates but they failed to develop their own farm teams. -- Don't look now, but one of the cycle's top races is developing under the radar in Montana. No, we're not talking about the high profile battle between Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg. The Montana gubernatorial race's status as one of the few competitive statehouse battles of the cycle was on full display this week: The RGA released a television ad attacking Democratic Attorney General Steve Bullock, while an outside group funded by the DGA went after former Rep. Rick Hill, the GOP nominee. Both sides are seeking to nationalize the race: Republicans are hitting Bullock for not joining other state attorneys general in a lawsuit challenging Obama's health care law, while Democrats will remind voters of Hill's tenure in Congress at every turn. The contest has been overshadowed by the Senate race thus far, but keep an eye on this one: it's one of the few gubernatorial battles that promises to remain suspenseful all the way to Election Day. -- The controversy surrounding new voting legislation passed across the nation over the past two years isn't disappearing any time soon. Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are among the many states dealing with new voter ID laws. Republicans say the measures will cut down on voter fraud, while Democrats argue the laws will disenfranchise minority voters. Things have gotten particularly vicious in Ohio, where GOP Secretary of State Jon Husted threatened to fire two elections officials who said they wouldn't enforce the new limited early voting laws. Franklin County GOP Chair Doug Preisse is under fire for saying the state's voting procedures shouldn't be "contorted to accommodate the urban - read African-American - voter turnout machine."
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