Everyone regards MSNBC’s Chuck Todd as a brilliant political pulse-taker, but he and his First Read team are consistently the most cautious and conservative estimators around.

Today, three weeks from Election Day, Todd & Co. are only giving Obama a modest 101 electoral vote lead over McCain, 264-163, with 111 votes (Nevada, Colorado, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida) in the toss-up column. This at a time when almost everyone else regards Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida as leaning-Obama states, at the very least. (Okay, one or two polls indicate Ohio is only slightly leaning to Obama.)
Fivethirtyeight has only Missouri and Indiana in the toss-up column, and is projecting Obama over McCain 351 to 187. The toss-ups at Pollster.com are Nevada (actually slightly leaning to Obama), Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina (again, slight Obama). They’re giving to Obama over McCain 320 to 158 with 60 electoral toss-up votes. And the Yahoo Dashboard is projecting Obama over McCain 344 to 167 with only one toss-up state — North Carolina.
So what’s up with Todd? What is he seeing that others are missing? Are the others all doing the wildly speculative spitball thing — slapdash, guesstimating — while only Todd is taking stock of the actual numerical realities? I don’t think so. I think there’s an element inside MSNBC that’s become cautious to a fault. I’ve pretty much come to think of Todd and his team as the “hold-back guys” — i.e., the last ones to admit that something’s happening here, Mr. Jones. It’s as if Tom Brokaw is tugging at their jacket sleeves and going, “Hold on, hold on…not so fast, don’t jump to conclusions.”