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Here's a phrase you don't read very often this year: "[The Democratic nominee] stuck closely to his campaign talking points, while [the Republican] -- whom observers said had more to gain from a strong debate showing because he trails in the most recent polls -- pulled material from a wider pool of topics."

That's how the Baltimore Sun described last night's Maryland gubernatorial debate between incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and the man he beat four years ago to get the job, former Gov. Bob Erlich (R). The race is a rare bright spot for Democrats, with polls showing O'Malley leaving Erlich in the dust as the election nears. (The TPM Poll Average shows O'Malley leading 49.6-43.1.)

So did Erlich get the job done last night and set the stage for a reversal of the polling trend? Doesn't sound like it from the Sun's writeup. The pair squared off on federal spending, taxes, fees, schools and who did a better job managing the state's criminal DNA database, but didn't break new ground on any topic. "Many of the arguments Monday could have been made four years ago, the first time the two candidates faced each other," the paper writes.

The most exciting drama of the evening may have come when no one was talking at all, as the paper describes:

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In a rare piece of good news for Democrats, the new survey of the West Virginia Senate race from Public Policy Polling (D) has Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin retaking the lead over Republican businessman John Raese, in the big-ticket race to succeed the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd.

The numbers: Manchin 48%, Raese 45%. The survey of likely voters has a ±2.8% margin of error. In the previous PPP survey from three weeks ago, Raese led by 46%-43%.

The poll continues to find Manchin being extremely popular as governor, with a 68% approval and only 22% disapproval. However, he continues to be hindered by President Obama's extraordinary unpopularity here, with an approval rating of 33%-61%.

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White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today that the deepwater drilling moratorium will likely be lifted soon, and as early as this week.

That's earlier than the original Nov. 30 end-date for the moratorium, which bars oil and gas companies from drilling new deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico during the ongoing investigation of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent, massive oil spill.

Reuters today is also reporting that the head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the new department which oversees drilling, will make an "imminent" announcement about the moratorium.

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Internal numbers from largest union federation in the country paint a startling picture for Democrats this fall, with nearly 80 Democratic seats in play -- in a year when the GOP would only need 39 net pickups to retake the House. The upshot for Democrats is that almost half of those seats are in districts with high union density, prompting the labor movement to invest in a ground game rivaling the one they mounted in 2008.

At a breakfast meeting with five reporters this morning, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka claimed that the labor movement could make the difference, at the margins, between a Republican return to power on Capitol Hill and the continuing reign of the Democratic party. The hope, in his words, is to create a "firewall" to keep the GOP from retaking the House. His argument is based on AFL's generic congressional ballot, which you can view here.

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Incumbent Sen. Richard Burr (R) and his Democratic rival in the North Carolina Senate race, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, traded barbs last night in a debate that reports describe as "civil."

The tone didn't mean the candidates agreed much, however, with the pair clashing over "the new health care law, on drilling off the state's coast and on which party was responsible for the national debt," according to the Raleigh, NC News & Observer. (The Libertarian candidate in the race -- who polls show is drawing little support -- declined to participate.)

To no one's surprise, Marshall "most often played the role of the aggressor" in the hour-long debate. Marshall needs her repeated jabs at Burr on the campaign trail to connect with voters -- and do it quickly -- if she wants to overcome polling that shows her to be an extreme underdog. The TPM Poll Average shows Burr ahead of Marshall by a margin of 50.2-32.8.

Last night's forum may not have been the tide-turning event Marshall needs, however. "The debate was civil in tone, although both candidates got in jabs," the N&O reports. "At other times, the debate seemed flat. There were no moments of high drama, and there appeared to be no major mistakes."

The Obama Justice Department has decided not to appeal a judge's decision to exclude the testimony of a key witness in the trial against Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the man the government alleges was an Osama bin Laden associate who conspired to kill Americans in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. The judge decided that, since prosecutors only learned of the witness after the defendant was tortured, the court would not hear his testimony.

The trial is likely to get underway today in the trial against Ghailani.

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The new Fox News poll of the Nevada Senate race shows Republican Sharron Angle holding a narrow edge over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

The numbers: Angle 49%, Reid 47%. The survey of likely voters has a ±3% margin of error. In the previous Fox poll from last week, Angle led by 49%-46%.

The poll also shows Reid with an approval rating of only 40%, with 55% disapproval, and a personal favorable-unfavorable rating of 42%-56%. On the other hand, Angle's favorables are even worse, at 36%-58%.

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The debate over what to do with Medicare -- which has become a centerpiece of the Kentucky Senate race of late -- took a prominent role in a televised debate between Republican nominee Rand Paul and Democratic nominee Jack Conway last night. As he has for weeks now, Conway hammered Paul for his past statement supporting a massive increase in the Medicare deductible to help, Paul has said, move the system to a "market-based approach." Paul accused Conway of twisting his words on the issue.

The fight has come to define the Senate race, and served to put a new spring in Democratic steps after a summer campaign that was all about Paul's momentum. Now the fight over Medicare (as well as another battle over drug enforcement) has put Paul on the run, with some polls showing Conway gaining steam in the final weeks of the election.

At the debate last night, Conway tried to capitalize on that momentum, jabbing Paul over Medicare at every possible moment.

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Last night, Stephen Colbert defended Ohio Congressional candidate Rich Iott, who said his Nazi reenactment was simply "a father-son bonding thing." Colbert said: "That's right. Fathers bond with their sons in all kinds of ways. Building a boat, fixing the car, solving the Jewish problem."

Colbert also slammed Eric Cantor, who is Jewish, for "[running] away from a fellow Republican" and repudiating Iott. "Thanks, Eric Cantor. Without your support, now Iott's gonna lose the Jewish vote."

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