Obama Gaining Ground In Key Swing States

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The presidential election is four weeks from Tuesday. Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama debate in Nashville, Tenn., Tuesday. The latest polls show Obama has pulled ahead of McCain in key battleground states. The economy is the big issue. The latest surveys show Obama is trusted more to handle the economy.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

ARI SHAPIRO, host:

And I'm Ari Shapiro sitting in for Renee Montagne. She's on assignment in New Mexico reporting on the presidential campaign. The election is four weeks from tomorrow, and Barack Obama and John McCain will meet face to face two more times. Tomorrow they'll debate in Nashville, and next week on Long Island. In a moment, we'll hear from voters in Pennsylvania, one of the hotly contested states. But first, NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts joins us for a look at the state of play. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: This race has been neck-and-neck for so long, suddenly Obama is leading McCain both nationally and in important battleground states. What's going on? Is this all about the economy?

ROBERTS: Pretty much that and McCain's response to the economic crisis. Overall, it's by far the most important issue in all of the polling that's going on. And Obama is trusted more to handle the economy in all of those polls. And he's considered much more likely to understand the economic problems of, quote, "people like me." You know, John McCain might have been enable to capitalize on the crisis in Washington over the last couple of weeks because of his experience and the fact that voters have been saying they trust him more to handle a crisis, but that didn't happen. He seemed very unsure of his course as he suspended his campaign and talked about canceling the debate.

And now Obama has an ad up calling McCain, quote, "erratic," which plays to the questions of the senator's temperament. So I think the best hope for John McCain at this point is to move onto other subjects now that the economic package is through the Congress. But given the way the markets look this morning, Ari, I'm not sure that that's very likely.

SHAPIRO: Well, the McCain campaign recently has started going after Obama personally. Do you think that tactic is likely to be effective?

ROBERTS: Well, look, negative campaigns work. We know that. And vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, fresh from her debate, has taken on the traditional vice presidential candidate role of going after the opposition. And she brought up Obama's association with '70s radical Bill Ayers over the weekend. And today in The New York Times, Bill Kristol has a column saying that he talked to Sarah Palin over the weekend and that she thinks Jeremiah Wright, Obama's controversial former pastor, is fair game as well. Obama hit back immediately saying he, quote, "won't be swiftboated," and he says that a negative campaign is what happens when you're out of ideas and out of time. You know, given the state of the economy, whether people are going to respond to this is questionable. I think that they're worried so much about themselves that they're not as worried about Barack Obama.

SHAPIRO: Just looking at the campaign map for a moment, Sarah Palin was campaigning in Omaha, Nebraska, last night. Now why would a Republican be campaigning in such a reliably Republican state this late in the election?

ROBERTS: Well, there's this interesting scenario that both campaigns have spun out, that they could each end up with 269 electoral votes, a tie, and each would need one more to get to the 270. So Obama has been trolling in Nebraska because it goes by congressional district. It's not winner take all. And Omaha is considered an area, a congressional district, that he could win, that's been called Omabama. And he could get one vote there. So Sarah Palin was there defending their turf.

A similar situation has been playing out in Maine where McCain has been looking for one electoral vote. I think the Obama forces now seem to be thinking they may be less close as McCain has shut down his operation in Michigan, and Obama still has the money to try to expand the map in places like North Carolina and Virginia where he's been able to register lots of new voters.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

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