TODAY   |  October 18, 2010

Is it midterm elections or campaign ’08?

With the president and first lady chanting “Yes We Can” at a Democratic rally in Columbus and Sarah Palin firing up conservative voters in California, it seemed like a repeat of the 2008 election. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports.

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MATT LAUER, co-host: Now the run-up to the midterm elections, just 15 days from right now. With Democrats fighting to hold onto power in Congress , President Obama pulled out

his not-so-secret weapon at a rally in Ohio last night: the first lady. NBC 's Kelly O'Donnell has details. Kelly , good morning.

KELLY O'DONNELL reporting: Hi , there, Matt. Well, the president will be working another night shift, raising money for Democrats later in Maryland after a weekend road trip trying to help his party. Now, at this point in the campaign it is part exasperation, as you'll see candidates really knocking each other pretty hard, and part inspiration, trying to get voters involved. Meant to feel like a flashback from campaign 2008 , the Obamas in Columbus , Ohio , Sunday night, together on the trail for the first time this year.

Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA: So I'm going to ask you something. Can we do this?

Crowd: Yes we can!

Ms. OBAMA: Can we do this?

Crowd: Yes we can!

O'DONNELL: From the president, those old slogans sounded hoarse.

President BARACK OBAMA: And by the way, I hope you don't mind, I'm losing my voice because I'm still fired up.

O'DONNELL: Motivating conservatives this weekend in California , Sarah Palin 's pep talk urged volunteers to go all out.

Ms. SARAH PALIN: So let me ask you, are you ready to fight for your freedoms?

O'DONNELL: You could forget the uplifting words watching the Kentucky Senate debate Sunday night.

Mr. RAND PAUL (Republican, Kentucky Senate Candidate): Jack , you should be ashamed of yourself. You should apologize. Have you no decency?

O'DONNELL: Tea party -backed Republican Rand Paul angrily demanded that Democrat Jack Conway apologize for a TV ad that makes strange claims about Paul as a college student.

O'DONNELL: Conway did not back down, saying values matter.

Mr. JACK CONWAY: Why did he freely join a group known for mocking or making fun of people of faith?

O'DONNELL: Conway , who is Kentucky 's attorney general, repeated another claim from his ad made by an unnamed woman against Paul .

Mr. CONWAY: When is it ever a good idea -- a good idea to tie up a woman and ask her to kneel before a false idol, your god that you call Aqua Buddha ?

Mr. PAUL: You're going to stand over there and accuse me of a crime for 30 years ago from some anonymous source? How ridiculous are you? You embarrass this race.

O'DONNELL: At the end of the debate, Paul refused to shake Conway 's hand. Sharp disagreements were more civil when Colorado's Senate candidates debated on " Meet the Press ." Tea party -endorsed Republican Ken Buck told David Gregory he supports the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

DAVID GREGORY reporting: Do you believe that being gay is a choice?

Mr. KEN BUCK: I do.

GREGORY: You don't think it's something that's determined at birth?

Mr. KEN BUCK: I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you have a choice.

O'DONNELL: Democrat Senator Michael Bennett says Buck is wrong.

Senator MICHAEL BENNETT: I absolutely believe he's outside the mainstream of views on this.

O'DONNELL: And there's plenty of disagreement in that Colorado race, but they've been able to contain it a bit more than what we saw in Kentucky . Now, Colorado 's particularly important because it is a chance for Buck , who prefers to call himself a grassroots candidate more than a tea party candidate, a chance for Republicans to pick up that seat now held by a Democrat. In Kentucky the venom really is pouring out there, and Rand Paul says that this was really an attack on his religion as well as on his background. Matt :

LAUER: All right, Kelly O'Donnell in Washington for us this morning. Kelly , thank you very much . David Gregory is moderator of " Meet the Press ." David , good morning to you.