Political Cartographers, 1 Day Left To Redraw Maps

After what may seem like a lifetime, Election Day will be here Tuesday. As the candidates sprint through a final day of appearances, Democrat Barack Obama remains comfortably ahead of Republican John McCain in national polls. Swings states that previously leaned red have been getting a lot of attention from both candidates.

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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. This is the moment when some people just can't wait. Others just can't wait for the presidential campaign to end.

INSKEEP: The final result will be affected in part by the votes in small towns, and in a moment we'll hear from one of those towns in a battleground state.

MONTAGNE: We begin with NPR's Cokie Roberts who's been one of our guides through this campaign. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Is the Obama campaign as comfortable as the polls suggest? I mean, is there anything in particular that's making them nervous?

ROBERTS: Well, they're warning against overconfidence, which you would expect at this point, because the polls are all showing Obama comfortably ahead and over 50 percent. But it's interesting, actually some of the pollsters are saying they're worried because they're looking at numbers that are better numbers than Democrats normally get even in years that have been very good for Democratic candidates. So that's making them a little bit nervous.

But the Obama campaign seems not all that worried. They're finishing up the campaign tonight in Indiana, a state that is very traditionally Republican. It's Obama's - the campaign says it's his 49th visit to Indiana. So it looks to me he's been to so many of these very red states and having ads on in very blue states that he seems to be ready to drive up the popular vote, maybe going for a real mandate here. And we'll see, you know, how all that plays out tomorrow.

John McCain spent the weekend - his main event over the weekend was an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" with his wife, Cindy, a very funny sketch with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. And he was making jokes about, you know, all he could do was go on the QVC network when Obama had money to go on all the others. Interesting, they're still on the attack, these candidates. They have op-eds, both of them, today in The Wall Street Journal, and they're not letting up on each other even at the end here.

Bottom line here, Renee: Obama is ahead in every state that John Kerry carried, plus Iowa and New Hampshire. He's leading in some of the states that Bush carried, and he's competitive in traditional Republican states like North Carolina and Montana. So this is looking like a race that he's doing quite well in.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's look ahead to election night. I'm curious what you think one might be looking for.

ROBERTS: Well, Virginia closes early. So does North Carolina and Georgia. If we can get a good read on Virginia early and Obama carries it, it makes it hard to see how McCain puts together 270 electoral votes without some big upset in a place like Michigan. If Obama also carries some place like North Carolina, then we could be looking at a landslide. We'll also look to see if young voters turn out because we've been talking about that all year, and they are still overwhelmingly for Obama. And we're seeing that in early voting, except in absentee ballots coming back in Pennsylvania and Florida. Those have been more Republican than Democratic.

MONTAGNE: You know, let's just turn briefly to the races for the U.S. Senate. Are the Democrats likely to get those 60 seats that would give them a big majority?

ROBERTS: They'd have to run the table to do that. But Republicans are losing the open seats everywhere but Idaho and Nebraska. They're defending - incumbents are having to defend seats. No Democratic incumbent is having to defend a seat. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana was the only one in trouble, and she now looks fine. So they could get to that 60, which means no filibusters. They get their Supreme Court nominees. And in the House, Democrats could be adding to their majorities by maybe 30 seats. So the pressure will be on to perform, but that's a pressure they're ready to accept right now.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks for joining us. NPR's Cokie Roberts will be with us again on Wednesday morning to help sort through the results.

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Pew Poll Shows McCain Narrowing Gap

Political Junkie

The final Pew Research Center poll of the 2008 presidential election gives Barack Obama a 49 to 42 percent lead over his rival, John McCain. Though still a significant lead, it's suddenly a much tighter race than Obama's 15-point lead from last week.

There are two things closing the gap, says Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center. First, McCain has made some gains among whites, independents and middle-income voters. But the other boost he's enjoying comes from narrowing the pool of responses from registered voters to likely voters.

Typically, Republican voters tend to vote more regularly than some Democratic voting groups — particularly young people and blacks, Kohut says. So while turnout is up among those groups, it's also up across the board — giving Republicans a boost when the poll focuses on likely voters.

It may not be as strong as a week ago, but Obama's lead in the Pew poll agrees with several national polls that have him ahead by a 5-point average.

"This is a pretty substantial lead," Kohut says. "We haven't had a lead for a candidate this substantial since 1996, when President Clinton was leading Sen. Dole in the final weekend of the campaign."

But that's not the only poll data leaning in Obama's favor.

The strength of each candidate's support among likely voters has historically been a significant indicator of a race's outcome. According to the Pew poll, 36 percent of likely voters say they strongly support Obama, while only 24 percent say they are strong supporters of McCain.

"Typically," Kohut says, "if we look back to elections going back to 1960, invariably the candidate with the stronger support wins the election."

Despite the numbers, Kohut warns, you can't take voters for granted. But he admits that it would take something pretty big to upend what most of the polls are showing. "But in an election where the unexpected is the expected," Kohut teases, "who knows?"

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