Week In News: Campaigns Head Into Home Stretch

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With the presidential election just a few days away, polls and predictions are dominating conversation, but different people seem to be coming up with different conclusions. Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz speaks with James Fallows of The Atlantic about the home stretch of the campaigns.


And if you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

You will not want to miss Taylor Swift. She'll be on in about 10 minutes or so. But before that, let me bring in another rock star, James Fallows of The Atlantic. Jim, the opening act for Taylor Swift, so thank you.

JAMES FALLOWS: This is my brush with reflected glory.

RAZ: Jim, I've been thinking about one of the most remarkable achievements of the Romney campaign this year, and that is how Mitt Romney really went from being piled on by Republicans to really generating a great deal of enthusiasm among the party faithful. That is no small feat.

FALLOWS: It is indeed impressive. And on the one hand, things like this happen every single time. For example, think back four years ago to the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama primaries where they said some pretty mean things about each other. But this was more than usual where you had essentially all the other members of the Republican field arguing that Mitt Romney was uniquely weak as a potential challenger for Barack Obama because of his Bain Capital background, because of Obamneycare, because of the flip-flopping and all the rest.

So the fact that so much of the party is so tightly lined up behind him now, with a few exceptions, I think mainly speaks to the unity of the party in thinking that they want to get rid of Barack Obama.

RAZ: Jim, as we just heard from our reporters and from Deval Patrick and Vin Weber, a lot of optimism on both sides there. What do you make of the sense that this election could break either way?

FALLOWS: Again, there's something like this every time where each campaign wants to keep the mood up as the final days draw near. I think there's something more like real cognitive dissonance this time that I can remember in quite a while where you do have partisan on each side really thinking the fundamentals are on their side, and that if this is a fair, i.e., non-fraudulent election, their side is going to win.

On the one hand, you have the average of most of the state polls suggesting that President Obama has a comfortable Electoral College lead, but you do have predictions coming from many, many Republicans. Newt Gingrich is saying this; Michael Barone, who's a longtime political analyst, is saying that Romney is in position for a 315 Electoral College victory. In a way, this is most like the 2004 election where in the final week or two, I think many of John Kerry supporters thought that in the end, things really were going to break their way.

And the real similarity may be this again. I think one reason making the Kerry supporters feel that in 2004 was a sense that the country couldn't possibly go back to another four years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. I think there's a similar it can't possibly happen belief among a lot of Republican Romney supporters now.

RAZ: Jim, let me ask you about a controversy ranging between political reporters and The New York Times blogger Nate Silver. He has a very specific methodology - statistical - for forecasting election results. His numbers show that President Obama has an 83 percent chance of winning the election. Many people who cover politics have gone after him, saying, you know, how do you get to that number when the polls are dead even?

FALLOWS: Yes. And, of course, there's a whole difference between probability and prediction, which we won't go into now. I think what's really fascinating here is this is a reprieve in politics of the famous Moneyball argument of the past 15 or 20 years in baseball that Michael Lewis wrote about so well in his book, where you have people have the kind of - in baseball, the old scout sensibility of somebody having a good-looking swing or look like a ballplayer versus the quantified guys who said, OK, what's his on-base percentage.

Nate Silver and other people like him are applying that quantitative analysis to politics. A lot of straditional political reporters don't like it. And if we talk a week or two from now, we can look back and see which of these approaches held up better because they can't both be right.

RAZ: Indeed. That's James Fallows. He is national correspondent for The Atlantic and a regular on this program. Jim, thanks.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

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