By CNN's Jack Cafferty:
With 12 days to go and polls tightening nationwide and in several key states, it looks like the 2012 presidential election just might be another nail biter.
That wasn't the case last time around.
In 2008, Barack Obama mopped the floor with John McCain, winning both the Electoral College and the popular vote by wide margins.
But the two presidential contests before that were close ones.
In the 2004 race between incumbent George W. Bush and John Kerry it all came down to the state of Ohio. That could very well be the case a week from Tuesday.
If Kerry had won Ohio, he would have been president.
Going back to 2000, it was even closer. So close it took 36 days and the Supreme Court to decide the winner.
The High Court effectively handed that election to George W. Bush over Al Gore after ordering the re-counting of ballots in Florida stopped.
The five-week drama of counting ballots, hanging chads and legal appeals took a toll on the country.
Fast forward to 2012 and what is by all accounts a tight race. Very tight. Not that long ago, President Obama was favored to win.
But after a monumentally bad first debate for the president and a strong month for Mitt Romney, the challenger now has the wind at his back.
When even The New York Times is out with a piece this week about how Romney has the momentum heading into the home stretch, it's an indication that we might be headed for another election all-nighter and then some.
Here’s my question to you: Which is better for the country: a close election or a clear mandate?
Tune in to the Situation Room at 5pm to see if Jack reads your answer on air.
And, we love to know where you’re writing from, so please include your city and state with your comment.
FROM CNN's Jack Cafferty:
The truth about what happened in Benghazi – and when President Obama knew it – could have a huge impact on the closing days of this campaign.
Turns out the White House, the State Department and the FBI were all told two hours after the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that an Islamic militant group had claimed responsibility. Two hours.
One government e-mail from the State Department shows a Libyan group – called Ansar al-Sharia – claimed responsibility for the attack on Facebook and Twitter. The group denied responsibility the next day.
This is big. It suggests that the president had reports that very day that the attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans weren't because of some film clip.
And yet – we heard just the opposite.
It took the administration nine days to refer to the attack as the work of terrorists.
Instead, top officials insisted there was no evidence suggesting the attack was "planned or imminent."
They continued to suggest that it was that anti-Muslim video produced in the United States that fueled a spontaneous protest in Benghazi. This includes folks at the very top like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice and the State Department spokeswoman.
Why did the president and his top lieutenants obfuscate and hem and haw for so long before telling us what really happened? Try politics.
As for this latest report, the White House says that these e-mails were part of a public flow of information in the aftermath of the attack and that it's the job of the intelligence community to sort through this stuff. They still refuse to accept responsibility for misleading the American people.
However, the more information that comes out about the Benghazi attack, the more questions there are about how the administration handled this. And that's not good for Obama just 13 days before the election.
Here’s my question to you: Why didn't President Obama tell the truth about what happened in Benghazi?
Three presidential debates in the history books. So now what?
After all the hype by the media, the expectations games played by both campaigns, lowering the bar for their guy, raising the bar for the other guy, the three 90-minute sessions themselves, the post-game spin by both sides and all the talking heads on television. After all that, here's what we know:
Mitt Romney did himself some good. Maybe even a lot of good.
Headed into that first debate, some had already written Romney's political obituary. They thought the race was President Obama's to lose. And that's just what he did in that first debate. He tried to throw it all away.
Regardless of who wins the election, one of the most memorable moments of this campaign will likely be President Obama's failure to show up for that debate.
The president's dismal, un-presidential and uninterested performance combined with Mitt Romney's strong showing shook this race to its core. As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wisely predicted beforehand, that first debate did in fact turn the race "upside down."
Ever since that moment, as the polls turned against President Obama, he's been playing catch up.
The president came prepped for the remaining debates. He went on the offense against Romney and held his own. However, these last two face-offs didn't provide a clear winner like the debacle in Denver did.
What remains to be seen is whether the president can stop the bleeding and undo the image that he left on the 70 million Americans who watched that first debate.
We'll find out in two weeks.
Here’s my question to you: Now that the debates are history, how much did they matter?
Interested to know which ones made it on air?
Jack is out of the office today but will return tomorrow with the Cafferty File.
Two down, one to go.
That's the count when it comes to the number of presidential debates before Election Day.
While the debates offer the voters a rare chance to see the candidates face to face, and tens of millions of Americans are tuning in, these events are almost always a triumph of style over substance.
It's all about show business. But that's not surprising, because that's what we're all about: Real housewives, the Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo, you name it. The stuff that contaminates our TV screens night after night for the most part is garbage - reality shows, game shows. Politicians fit right in.
And the debates can sort of be like watching a puppet show. You have the handlers pulling the candidates' strings. You have coaches, contributors, advisers putting words in the candidates' mouths. And then after the fact, we have these same folks in the "spin room" telling us what we saw during the debates. If I watched the debate, I really don't need some political hack telling me what I saw.
The candidates never give direct answers to the questions. Instead they maneuver behind a safe barricade of campaign talking points and then just wind up talking about what they want, not the question that was asked.
In President Obama's case, it's a good thing there was more than one debate.
But now voters might be scratching their heads wondering which one was the real president - the docile, seemingly disinterested fellow who showed up at the first debate, or the scrappy, energized man desperate for another four years who showed up at the second one.
Maybe the third one will give us the answer.
As for Romney, there's always the chance he'll show up to the last debate with binders full of flip-flops.
Here’s my question to you: How many presidential debates are enough?
President Obama did better at the debate Tuesday night, but he's a long way from sealing the deal for a second term.
For example, Obama is one of the most polarizing presidents this country has ever seen.
According to a Gallup Poll, so far in October, a whopping 90% of Democrats approve of the job the president is doing, compared with only 8% of Republicans.
That's an 82-point gap in party approval ratings a month before the election and figures to be the largest gap for any incumbent in recent history.
George W. Bush had an 80-point gap in party approval the October before the election, while Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan all had gaps below 70 points.
And the trend is not his friend. Obama's ratings have become more polarized each year he's been in office. Perhaps not surprising when he pushed through measures like Obamacare with no Republican support. Also controversial are his record government spending and what critics claim are Obama's efforts to grow big government.
Gallup points out that it's not unusual for a president's ratings to be the most polarized their fourth year in office, right before the election.
For now, George W. Bush's fourth year is still the most polarized of any presidential year since they started keeping track in the 1950s.
But Bush and Obama share near-universal approval from their own party and a near-universal disapproval from the other party.
Another explanation is that feelings about Obama – and Bush before him – are partly a reflection of our hyperpartisan culture in which every issue degrades into a battle between left and right.
Here’s my question to you: Why is the country so sharply divided when it comes to President Obama?
Tomorrow night's presidential debate is a make-or-break moment for President Barack Obama.
After that dismal showing in the first debate against Mitt Romney, the president better bring his A game if he wants a second term.
Writing in The Daily Beast, Obama supporter Andrew Sullivan says that the president's "main challenge for re-election in the final stretch is Obama himself."
Sullivan suggests that Obama threw away the momentum after the first debate, calling the president's performance "so lazy, so feckless and so vain it was almost a dare not to vote for him." Ouch. Remember this is a supporter talking.
But he's onto something: Romney has seen gains in both national polls and battleground states since the first debate.
He now leads the president 48% to 47% in CNN's poll of polls. Perhaps even more telling: After months of voters finding Obama more likable than Romney, a new poll of likely voters shows the two men virtually tied on likability.
According to Sullivan, it will take a lot of "intelligence, fire and argument" for Obama to turn this thing around, and it won't be enough for Obama to just break even with Romney in the two remaining debates.
That brings us back to tomorrow's night debate, which will be moderated by CNN’s Candy Crowley.
While the president insists his debate preparations are "going great," the town-hall format may make it even tougher for him to win.
No doubt the president will have to come out strong against Romney, but he also needs to show he can connect with the voters in the hall and those watching at home. It's a tricky balancing act, and above all else, Obama will have to avoid those long and boring professorial answers.
Here’s my question to you: What is President Obama's greatest challenge at tomorrow night's debate?
While President Obama talks about Big Bird on the campaign trail, the real topic begging for answers is what happened in Benghazi on September 11.
But the murder of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans amid what appears to be insufficient security is not something this administration wants to talk about.
Consider this: Up until today, there had been no White House press briefing for more than two weeks.
Meanwhile, it took the FBI three weeks to arrive on the scene in Benghazi after that deadly attack, allegedly for safety reasons. Three weeks.
This has rightfully raised concerns about sensitive documents being left unsecured at the compound. The State Department insists no classified documents were left on the premises. Really? A CNN reporter walked right into the consul and retrieved the ambassador's journal three days after the attack. What else was left behind?
The administration continues to change its story about what happened and why. Initially it said the attacks were a reaction to a film made by an American mocking the Prophet Mohammed.
More than a week later the administration called it a terrorist attack, potentially linked to al Qaeda, after it was learned a Libyan security official warned of a possible attack three days before it happened.
Now we learn that repeated requests for additional security were ignored.
Finally, the Benghazi timeline shows there were no protests before the attack.
There's a reason the president doesn't want to talk about Benghazi: The way it was handled before and after the murders is a disgrace.
Expect Mitt Romney to ask the president about all this when a future debate turns to foreign policy.
Here’s my question to you: Why won't President Obama talk about Benghazi, instead of Big Bird?
The stakes couldn't be higher for Thursday's vice presidential debate.
After the debacle that was President Obama's performance at the first debate last week, expect interest to be especially high when Joe Biden and Paul Ryan face off in Kentucky for their only debate.
At this point, in the face of plummeting poll numbers for the president, the Obama campaign must rely on Joe Biden to turn this thing around. Good luck with that.
Look for Biden to come out swinging, hitting hard on issues like Romney's "47%" comment, Ryan's controversial budget plan and his proposal to change Social Security.
As one Republican adviser tells Politico, Biden will bring his "proverbial nunchucks and brass knuckles" to the debate.
Of course, this has got to leave a lot of nervous Democrats, because with Joe Biden, you never know what you're going to get. While Biden is a seasoned debater who connects well with voters, he also tends to say dumb things from time to time. Just a couple of months ago, the White House had to sweep up after Biden after he told a largely black audience in Virginia that Republicans "would put y'all back in chains."
Ryan will no doubt ask Biden about foreign policy, including the murder of an American ambassador in Benghazi, more than 40 months of 8%-plus unemployment, a $16 trillion deficit, no federal budget for the last three years and so on.
There's also the risk that in trying to make up for Obama's weak debate, Biden comes across as too aggressive.
As for Ryan, he says the pressure is on him after Romney's strong showing last week. Ryan says he expects Biden to launch at him "like a cannon ball," describing Biden as a gifted, extremely experienced and proven debater. Really?
This is must-see TV Thursday night.
Here’s my question to you: In light of the results of the first debate, how important is the vice presidential debate?
If President Obama had been a Broadway show last night, it would have closed after one performance.
Even the president's staunchest supporters were baffled by his lackluster effort.
MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked, "What was he doing?"
Democratic strategist James Carville said, "Romney came in with a chainsaw."
Commentator Andrew Sullivan said, "This was a disaster... He choked... He may even have lost the election tonight."
CNN did a poll of watchers right after the debate that showed by a margin of almost 3-to-1 – 67% to 25% - that they thought Mitt Romney won the first debate.
What happened to the mesmerizing president who captivated audiences in Berlin and Cairo more than three years ago?
Where was the visionary who saw a path forward for the country that was so compelling he became the first African-American president in our history?
Watching the debate last night, I got the impression Obama didn't want to be there. He seemed annoyed at times and disengaged. And he allowed Romney to get back in the race big time.
And when the debates shift to foreign policy, it's not likely to get any easier for the president.
The Middle East is a tinderbox. The murder of an American ambassador in Libya goes begging for an explanation as to why repeated requests for additional security at our consulate in Benghazi were turned down. And the White House won't answer questions about it except to say the FBI is conducting an investigation.
That's not nearly enough.
Here’s my question to you: Why did President Obama do so poorly at last night's debate?
Jack Cafferty sounds off hourly on the Situation Room on the stories crossing his radar. Now, you can check in with Jack online to see what he's thinking and weigh in with your own comments online and on TV.
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