One Weekend To Go Before Election Day

The presidential election is four days away. Polls indicate Barack Obama is leading John McCain. Is there anything that could happen between now and Tuesday that could change the dynamic in the race?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Millions of us have already voted. Now the candidates get four more days to work on the rest of us.

INSKEEP: No matter who wins, every vote can make a difference in the mandate the winner claims.

MONTAGNE: This morning, we brought in our political brain trust, as we often do. Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor. Good morning.

KEN RUDIN: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent. Mara, good morning to you.

MARA LIASSON: Good morning to you.

INSKEEP: And let's start with Ken, because Ken and I both have a map in front of us. It's NPR's version of the electoral map with the red states and blue states and so forth. You need 270 electoral votes to win. How do things stand now?

RUDIN: Well, right now, if you look the map, Barack Obama is already ahead in all the states that John Kerry won in 2004, that's 252 electoral votes. That includes Pennsylvania, that includes New Hampshire. Obviously, John McCain thinks something is going on in Pennsylvania because he has been campaigning there. Perhaps his polls show it differently than we do it. But anyway so he needs 270. That means he needs - Barack Obama needs 18 more electoral votes. Right now, we have him ahead in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Iowa. Those are all states President Bush carried in 2004. That's an additional 26. If you add Virginia, that's another 13. Right now, we have him at 291 electoral votes.

INSKEEP: Does that mean - I mean we've got some toss-up states here, like Florida and North Carolina. You're saying if Obama stays ahead everywhere he is ahead, he wins even if he loses all those toss-up states.

RUDIN: That's exactly why John McCain is in Pennsylvania, because he's going to have to pick up a Democratic state here and there because of all the Republican states that Barack Obama is winning.

INSKEEP: OK.

MONTAGNE: And Mara, you can - at this point, we can count the hours until Election Day. What do you see that could possibly still affect the outcome?

LIASSON: Well, several things could still affect the outcome. First of all, there are undecided voters. They could all break to McCain. Right now, all the polls, of course show that Obama is leading by different amounts but the undecideds could break to McCain. We don't know about turnout. We expect it to be very, very high but we still don't know exactly who's going to turn out, we don't know if this incredible grassroots effort by Obama to turn out new voters, young voters, African-American voters will work. We also don't know exactly what the early voting means. Early voting is way up in the states that allow it. We also know that the character - the kind of people who are voting early are different this year. In the past it's been older Republican voters who turn out early now.

Now, the early voters tend to be more Democratic, African-American, a little bit younger, so that suggests that the early voting favors Obama. However, what we don't know is, are these voters who are new voters? In other words, the expansion of the electorate that Obama tried to make, or are they voters he would have gotten anyway, they're just voting early? So in other words, that might not be a sign of a great Obama surge. So all these things are question marks and we won't know till Election Day.

INSKEEP: And I'm glad you mentioned turnout, Mara Liasson, because I'm remembering, if I remember correctly, in 2004, the so-called independent voters who supposedly decide elections went to John Kerry but President Bush got his people out in greater numbers and so he won the election. It was all about turnout in 2004.

LIASSON: Right. The Republicans have a very famous program called the 72-Hour Project where they actually get out their voters and they do it very well. However, the entire focus of the Obama campaign has been on expanding the electorate, registering new voters in very large numbers and getting them to the polls. Now, we know they did it during the primaries; we will see if they can do it.

MONTAGNE: OK. There's a difference in this election and that is Barack Obama's enormous advantage in fundraising in some - in some - many times over to his opponent. What could that - difference that make this time?

LIASSON: Well, you know, it is funny, Obama says in every speech, parents you should turn off the television and help your kids do the homework. Every time you turn on the TV, you're going to see him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LIASSON: He has reached saturation levels. He had a 30-minute infomercial with waving flags and waving wheat and him in the Oval Office the other night. Look, I think that they have had an effect. To me, it is the one and only reason why he is winning on the question of taxes, because he has repeated in advertising this claim that he is going to reduce taxes for 95 percent of Americans, a million times.

INSKEEP: Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: It seems so funny, though, that Republicans are talking about Democrats buying the election, which you never hear, and you talk about you see Democrats with more money than they know what to do with, and that never happens either.

INSKEEP: The other thing that's going to be decided on Tuesday is of course Senate races. How's that looking right now?

RUDIN: Well, not good for the Republican Party. There are 35 seats up; 23 of them are currently held by the Republicans, obviously they have a lot to lose and they may lose a bunch. There are open seats - Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, Republican incumbents are retiring, Democrats are favored there. New Hampshire seems to be tightening but John Sununu is trailing.

In Alaska, Ted Stevens was probably even with many voters thinking that he could beat the indictment but he didn't, he was convicted on all seven counts. He may lose. Republican hasn't lost a Senate race there since '74, and Elizabeth Dole is trailing now in North Carolina. Nobody thought that was coming a few months ago.

MONTAGNE: Ken Rudin is the political editor and writes the weekly Political Junkie column that can be found at npr.org/politicaljunkie, and Mara Liasson of course is NPR's national political correspondent. Thank you both.

RUDIN: And Mara doesn't write anything, I noticed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: She just opens her mouth.

MONTAGNE: She's taking notes over there, though.

LIASSON: Ken writes all my stuff, all my material.

INSKEEP: There we go.

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