-- Meanwhile, reverberations from Mourdock's comments aren't limited to the battle for control of the Senate. The timing of the controversy - coming days after Romney starred in a TV spot endorsing the Senate hopeful -- put Romney in a lose-lose situation. Either he could withdraw his endorsement and demand the ad be taken down, breathing fresh life into a story his campaign wanted to disappear as quickly as possible; or, aiming to stay above the fray, he could distance himself from the specific comments but allow the ads to remain on the air, keeping his campaign on message but feeding into the Obama narrative that Romney lacks the courage to stand up to "the most extreme elements" of the GOP. Romney's campaign chose the latter option, disavowing the remarks but reiterating his support for Mourdock. That strategy was successful in limiting the damage to one news cycle's worth of questions to Romney from nagging reporters, who quickly moved on after realizing they wouldn't get answers. At the end of the week, no major damage was done. Still, the incident served as a stark reminder of the challenges Romney faces as the leader of a rightward-tacking Republican Party - challenges that will become all the more vexing should they follow him to the White House. -- Hoping to learn if Romney pulls off the upset early in the night next Tuesday? Don't count on it. Colorado, where poll after poll has shown a dead heat, could keep political junkies up late. Even if Romney overcomes Obama's polling advantage in Ohio to win the all-important Buckeye State, he could still need a win in Colorado to seal the deal. -- Confused by the divergent polls? Cliff Zukin, a political science professor at Rutgers University and past president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, has prepared a primer for journalists, academics and other political observers on how to interpret the endless barrage of data -- much of which seem to point in different directions. We recommend you take a deep breath and give it a close read before you freak out over the next Rasmussen or PPP poll. Zukin explains why the results of polls can differ across the various survey houses, and why it it's a wonder they're as close as they are. Some important perspective 10 days before Election Day. -- A funny thing happened after three straight wave elections: People seemed to forget that it's actually difficult to beat incumbents. Redistricting compelled many (including us) to start composing political obituaries for House members like Reps. Robert Dold, R-Ill., and John Barrow, D-Ga., whose redrawn districts swung against them. But both men are fighting that partisan disadvantage with strong campaigns against opponents who haven't been able to leverage that lean yet. Both Dold and Barrow could still lose, but no one is counting them out, and plenty more House races feature favorable districts that challengers haven't quite been able to put away. In the absence of a wave, the actual candidates for the House are playing a bigger role in their own destinies than they have in eight years. -- Meanwhile, don't forget about the tight gubernatorial races underway across the country. In Montana, GOP nominee Rick Hill (R) accepted a $500,000 donation from the Montana GOP on Oct. 4, immediately after a federal judge lifted the state's campaign finance limits but right before a federal appeals court re-instated them. When a state district judge issued a temporary injunction on the funds this week, she ordered Hill to stop spending the money and to cancel any ad buys financed with the donation. This leaves Hill with a huge chunk of his remaining campaign funds on hold until Election Day, causing him to loan his campaign $100,000 of his own money. The court decision heightens the importance in the tight race of the Republican Governors Association, which has spent heavily on Hill's behalf and will have to continue to do so over the next week and a half. -- Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire's unexpected decision to criticize her own party's gubernatorial candidate over his budget plan could be a blessing in disguise for former Rep. Jay Inslee, whom she has endorsed. Gregoire called both candidates' plans unworkable on Thursday, saying it will be impossible for either to find the $2 billion needed for next year's budget while promising not to raise taxes. Sure, the optics of the intra-party slam aren't good, but Gregoire's almost as unpopular as the tax increases she's recommending. The move is at worst neutral for Inslee and could actually help him bring back some Democrats from Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna who are disappointed with the way things are being run in Olympia.
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