TODAY   |  October 03, 2012

Battles brew over Biden’s words and ‘07 Obama video

As the presidential candidates’ running mates duke it out over Vice President Joe Biden’s use of the word “buried” to describe the fate of the middle class over the past four years, conservatives circulate a video of a 2007 speech by President Obama, a move described as “desperate” by his campaign. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports.

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>> morning on "today," the first presidential debate . the stage is set for the first presidential show dunne between president obama and mitt romney . their first face-to-face meeting in five years. chuck todd is the white house political director and chief white house correspondent outside the university of denver . chuck, good morning to you.

>> reporter: good morning, savannah. first of three 90-minute debates, one-on-one between president obama and mitt romney , and it comes at a critical time. for romney it's about turning the page on a rough september, and for the president it's a chance to shut off romney 's last path to victory. president obama took a break from tuesday's debate prep in nevada visiting the hoover dam .

>> it's spectacular, and i've never seen it before.

>> reporter: meanwhile in denver, mitt romney 's break time from debate prep was lunch at the tex-mex chain restaurant chipotle joined by ohio senator rob portman who is playing mr. obama in romney 's mock debate sessions. with the two candidates off the trail tuesday, their number two men picked up the slack. campaigning in north carolina vice president biden drew some attention with these comments, discussing the gop ticket's tax plan.

>> how they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that's been buried the last four years.

>> reporter: the romney campaign pounced on the word buried. campaigning in iowa, paul ryan fired back.

>> vice president biden just today said that the middle class over the last four years has been, quote, buried. we agree. that means we need to stop digging by electing mitt romney the next president of the united states .

>> reporter: later, the vice president did some damage control, clarifying his remarks.

>> the middle class was buried by the policies of romney and ryan supported.

>> reporter: 24 hours before the start time of tonight's debate late tuesday, conservatives began circulating a 2007 speech by then candidate obama speaking to an african-american audience about victims of hurricane katrina . fox news host sean hannity prominently featured the video as a gotcha moment.

>> it contains some of the most divisive class warfare and racially charged rhetoric ever used by barack obama .

>> reporter: nbc , along with several other media outlets, covered the same speech at the time. mr. obama spoke at length about the hurricane response.

>> people asked me whether they thought race was the reason the response was so slow. this administration was color-blind in its incompetence, but -- but everyone here knows that the disaster and the poverty happened long before the hurricane hit.

>> reporter: late tuesday the obama campaign responded calling hannity's coverage desperate, adding in a transparent attempt to change the subject from his comments attacking half of the american people , mitt romney 's allies recirculated video of a 2007 event that was open to and extensively covered by the press at the time.

>> this is why i like coming to vegas.

>> this is a great place to be.

>> reporter: meanwhile, a new round of nbc /" wall street journal "/marist polls show where the race stands in the three biggest battleground states . good news for mitt romney in virginia where he's closed gap to two points compared to a four-point deficit and also a close race in florida where the president leads romney by just a single point, also down from a four-point lead last month. but romney 's made no progress in ohio where mr. obama remains a significant edge, virtually unchanged since september. nationally the new nbc /" wall street journal " poll also shows the president in a strong position though the race tightened. he sits at 49% in both his ballot test and job approval rating. mitt romney coalesced republicans and to close the gap and likely voters because of republican enthusiasm, 49/46. david?