Campaigns Make Last-Minute Pitches

The midterm elections are just one day away, and campaigners are employing last-minute tactics to reach voters. But can the public be swayed the day before a vote?

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand. My colleague, Alex Chadwick, is on assignment this week reporting from Washington, D.C. on tomorrow's elections. I'll be speaking with him in just a few minutes.

Politics is the order of business in this part of the program. We're going to hear about some new polls showing the Democrats' lead narrowing over the Republicans. But narrowing by how much is just not exactly clear.

What is clear is that in the remaining hours of the campaign, both political parties are using all means of persuasion to get people to vote tomorrow.

We begin our coverage with NPR's Alex Cohen, who reports on how the parties are spending their campaign cash in the final push before Election Day.

ALEX COHEN: If you think you've been seeing a lot of political ads on TV lately, you're right. According to Nielsen Media Research, there's been a 31 percent increase in the number of ads run this midterm election compared to 2002. Like the more than 12,000 local TV spots run recently by the Republican candidate from Tennessee, Bob Corker.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Woman: Exaggerations and questionable judgment. That's the real Harold Ford, Jr.

COHEN: Tonight will be an interesting test of where candidates spend their money and how knowledgeable they are about football.

Mr. EVAN TRACY(ph) (Campaign Media Analysis Group): Monday Night Football is typically the last big audience event that candidates have to appeal to voters.

COHEN: Evan Tracy of the Campaign Media Analysis Group points out that this year, for the first time ever, Monday Night Football is on cable TV.

Mr. TRACY: Which means if you're running in statewide Ohio, for instance, you can't just call up to the seven or eight local ABC affiliates and try to get a Monday Night Football time. You've got to go system by system.

COHEN: Tracy likens this home stretch to a lawyer's closing arguments. If a candidate is leading in the polls, he or she will likely spend money on adds with a positive message.

Mr. TRACY: If the campaign is trailing in the polls, you're seeing them basically taking their best shots right now with their campaign advertising.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man: Unfortunately my opponent and his Washington allies have been more interested in false character attacks and distorting my record.

COHEN: According to third quarter financial disclosures, the GOP is certainly going into the home stretch with more cash. For example, in Virginia, Republican Senator George Allen spent $8.5 million through the end of September. That's more than four times what his opponent, Jim Webb, spent.

When it comes to where the Republican Party will spend its dollars in these final few hours, the GOP is not saying anything.

Mr. CARL FORDY(ph): (National Republican Congressional Committee): We don't talk about strategy, and funding down to the last couple of days is definitely strategy.

COHEN: That's Carl Fordy of the National Republican Congressional Committee. His counterpart, Sarah Feinberg(ph) of the Democratic House Campaign Committee, was a bit more forthcoming. She said by now most of the money's been spent. But what's left will be spent on ads, phone banks and last-minute mailers.

Ms. SARAH FEINBERG (Democratic House Campaign Committee): Where we have resources to spend, we're spending them in traditionally Republican districts like Kansas and Nebraska, where congressional races are tightening and Democrats are closing in on Republican incumbents.

COHEN: Feinberg says they're trying to use their money wisely. They've tapered ads in some states, like Pennsylvania, where they're feeling more confident about the outcome.

And that may be wise at this stage of the game, says Evan Tracy of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. After all, he says, politics is probably the only business where spending is highest when you have the least amount of people to influence.

Mr. TRACY: Right now, you know, 90 percent of the people that are going to go to polls tomorrow have made up their mind on who they're going to vote for. The other 10 percent are wrestling with whether they're going to vote at all.

So really, all of this advertising at the end is going to be aimed at those few percentage points of people that haven't made up their mind yet; in other words, trying to get a hold of that late-breaking, undecided voter.

COHEN: One last thing to keep in mind, Tracy adds: every campaign is about running the last campaign but even louder. Which means in 2008 campaigns will be even longer, more expensive and more inflammatory than the ones we've seen this season.

Alex Cohen, NPR News.

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