Are Surprises In Store for Election Day?

Democrats think they will be able to win enough seats Tuesday to become the majority in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. But Republican advantages in districting and voter turnout may lead to some surprises on Election Day.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And joining us this Monday, one day before Election Day, is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So President Bush has been heralding the guilty verdict handed down to Saddam Hussein - we've just heard from David - and campaigning on it. But there's also out there, on the web and elsewhere, those who would say this verdict might be an October surprise. Is it likely, really, to have an effect on the election?

ROBERTS: Well, the Democrats say no. The Republicans are hoping that maybe this one little glimmer of what could be seen as good news out of Iraq could help their effort. And there is the usual, as you indicated, grumbling about whether the Bush administration manipulated this verdict for a last minute boost in October, in this case November surprise. Tony Snow, the White House Press Secretary says that anyone who thinks that is quote, "smoking rope".

And I must say that if Osama bin Laden were suddenly captured, now that would be a surprise that you would question the manipulation of and that might have an effect. But I think that this is unlikely to have any kind of big impact on the election. Everybody expected this verdict. And even as it came down, more American troops were killed in Iraq, so I don't think it is likely to affect people's attitudes about the war.

And you still have today, Renee, the incredible phenomenon of the military newspapers - not run by the military but certainly is very close to the military, the Army Times, et cetera - are calling for the secretary of defense's resignation. So I think that's likely to have more of an impact than the verdict for Saddam Hussein.

MONTAGNE: And some of the polls over the weekend have shown a narrowing gap between Democrats and Republicans. What do you make of that?

ROBERTS: Well, there are three very solid national polls that are showing that that generic question as we call it, who would you prefer to control Congress, Democrats or Republicans, narrowing, the Democratic lead is smaller than it was earlier. But a lot of that is to be expected as the campaign closes and people focus on the choices in front of them. Also, this campaign has gotten really ferocious at the end not only with advertising but with lots of direct telephone calls, direct mail, all of that. So you would expect a certain amount of the gap narrowing.

But look, you still look at these House races, Renee, and you look at 14 Republicans hold House seats in districts that either voted for John Kerry or were tied in 2004. Four more Republicans are in districts that Bush carried with 51 percent of the vote or less - that's 18 right there. That puts the Democrats over the 15 they need to take the House.

And when you hear that the president, as you just heard in David's piece, is in Nebraska and Kansas, places that he carried with more than 60 percent of the vote and 68 percent of the vote, you know, you start to say that these districts were - Bush carried them by 53, 54 percent - that those are likely to go Democratic. So you see the Democrats, you know, likely still to pick up the House.

In the Senate there are about 10 or 11 seats that are still in play. You figure the Democrats take half of them and that doesn't do it for them. And the Republican turnout machine is formidable, which is why the president is on the road.

MONTAGNE: And so what should we look for tomorrow night?

ROBERTS: Well, the polls close early in states where there are close races, so that makes it handy for us - Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio. And then there are many embattled Republicans in East Coast states: Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire. So those results will give us an idea of where we're going. If all of the Indiana Republican, Pennsylvania's, Connecticut seats go Democratic, it will be a huge night for them. One seat out of three, they probably don't carry the House. Two out of three, they get the House but not by a large margin. So we'll have lots to look for.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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