Candidates Make Aggressive Final Pitch On Eve Of Election

Tomorrow, Americans will cast their vote for the next president of the United States. And the presidential campaigns are in full throttle, sweeping through key battleground states that could heavily influence the race's outcome. NPR political editor Ken Rudin and Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon take offer Election Day eve developments.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, the murders of Jennifer Hudson's relatives have provoked an outpouring of sympathy and grief but also some questions. Why did they still live in the neighborhood? Should they have put more distance between themselves and troubled members of the family? Frankly, it's the kind of conversation many of us are having behind closed doors. We're going to talk about that in just a few minutes with Iyanla Vanzant, Bertice Berry and Mary Mitchell.

But first, tomorrow America votes - finally. And on this final full day of the presidential campaign, both candidates are pulling out all the stops. John McCain will visit Pennsylvania, Indiana and New Mexico before heading to Arizona, while Barack Obama is said to appear in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia before heading home to Illinois. Both are trying to encourage their supporters and pounding away at those last few uncommitted, not-yet-persuaded voters.

For our last pre-election analysis, we're joined by NPR political editor, Ken Rudin, and Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon, who's been traveling with Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden. He's in Kansas City, Missouri right now. Welcome to you both.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Michel.

Mr. PERRY BACON (Reporter, Washington Post): Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, before we look at what the candidates are doing today, let's talk about a couple stories over the weekend, Ken. On Saturday, Vice President Dick Cheney made this statement at a gathering of Republicans in his home state of Wyoming about choosing the next president.

Vice President DICK CHENEY (United States): And in three days we'll choose a new steward for the presidency and begin a new chapter in our history. It's the biggest decision that we make together as Americans. A lot turns on the outcome. I believe the right leader for this moment in history is Senator John McCain.

MARTIN: And by Sunday, the vice president's statement was in Obama campaign ads. The candidate himself was talking about it. We have this clip.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; 2008 Presidential Nominee): I'd like to congratulate Senator McCain on this endorsement because he really earned it. That endorsement didn't come easy. Senator McCain had to vote with George Bush 90 percent of the time and agree with Dick Cheney to get it.

MARTIN: Ken Rudin, at this point, does stuff like this matter, do you think?

KEN RUDIN: Well, it's not a coincidence that we have not heard from President Bush and Vice President Cheney for most of this campaign because their numbers are at a historic lows, and obviously, John McCain hoping to win the votes of independents and disaffected Democrats, the last thing you want is a reminder that the Bush-Cheney ticket is behind them.

But look, anything matters. You know, there are some polls - even though national polls - every national poll I've seen has Barack Obama up anywhere between 3 and 14 points, there are still some battleground states that are very close - too close to call for some people, and so every vote does matter.

MARTIN: Perry Bacon, you're traveling to some of those battleground states with Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden. What kind of reception is he getting out there?

Mr. BACON: He's getting some pretty big - he's getting pretty big crowds. I mean, there was some thousand, two thousand or thousands in Florida and some places. The crowds, of course, are full of people who are already for the ticket. So in some ways, you know, the more important thing they do is like, you know, before he speaks, the organizers say, you know, after you go to this event, you should sign up to canvass or to call people or to somehow get active in the campaign to turn out voters for Tuesday. It's almost become - these rallies are almost sort of more organizational events than they are sort of message events because they assume most people sort of knew, for example, that Dick Cheney was for John McCain. So I think those things are a little less important at this point than the sort of get-out-to-vote operations.

MARTIN: Earlier in the last couple of weeks, the storyline had been how Sarah Palin had been walled off from the national media, particularly after she didn't perform particularly well. But then in recent weeks, you know, we've seen her talk to a number of national media figures. We haven't seen - am I getting this right that we really have not seen Joe Biden very present with the news media since his comments about Senator Obama being tested? Is my sense correct?

Mr. BACON: I think even before that - I mean, I think that Sarah Palin, in some way, shoots from the least sociable candidate to the most sociable candidate. None of these guys are giving - you know, as far as McCain, Obama or Biden - weren't getting a lot of press conferences before Biden had been doing a lot of interviews on television or otherwise. So I think he did a press conference on Friday. Before that he had not yet - before that, none of them had been doing a lot of press conferences at all.

MARTIN: But is it accurate to say that Joe Biden has been, in a sense, walled off a bit?

Mr. BACON: I don't think so in that I don't think he was ever, sort of, you know, I mean, particularly accessible. I think that VPs tend not to do a lot of press conferences. I don't think it's (unintelligible). But he was sort of allowed to do a press conference on Friday (unintelligible) and take a lot of questions, which makes you think they must be confident in sort of the numbers and the fact that a lot of people have voted already, so it's not as if the - there's not a lot of things that can change in the election at this point.

MARTIN: Ken, what's your take on that?

RUDIN: Well, actually, I think that Biden has been walled off. He had made those comments, of course, about a new president, Barack Obama, would be tested by an international crisis. He did say at some press conference that he thought that Hillary Clinton would have made a better running mate than I would have been, and there's a lot of people - the Obama campaign is very disciplined, a very organized campaign, very disciplined, and they have really kept - now, Joe Biden has been talking to local media. He's been talking to local press and TV, you know, for months, but the national media he has been called off.

One more thing about the vote is yes, it's fair to say that tomorrow is Election Day, but up to a third of the country has already voted. So it's going to be very fascinating to see if the same enthusiasm we've seen with those lines around the block in early voting states will continue tomorrow.

MARTIN: And that's unusual, isn't it?

RUDIN: Absolutely.

MARTIN: For so many people to come out early.

RUDIN: Absolutely. First of all, four years ago and eight years ago, the early vote was for the Republicans in President Bush. But only about 24 percent voted four years ago, 18 percent voted eight years ago. Now we're talking about up to a third.

MARTIN: Are both campaigns pushing people to come out early? I mean, we've heard Barack Obama talk about it over and over again at campaign rallies. He's like, get out there now. Don't wait. Are both campaigns pushing people to get out early?

RUDIN: I think the Democrats certainly have a far better get-out-to-vote operation. They have far more money. They have more organizations, especially in red states where even John McCain has outspent and outorganized. So it's going to be a very unprecedented effort by the Democrats.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. We're speaking with NPR political editor Ken Rudin and political reporter Perry Bacon of the Washington Post about the final hours of the presidential campaign. We'd also like to hear from you on Election Day tomorrow. Tell us about your trip to the polls. We want to know how long you waited in line, whether there was tension between McCain and Obama supporters, was it a love fest, if your experience was smooth sailing or rough waters, or did you vote early also? You can call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Once again, that number is 202-842-3522.

Ken, you know, there was another story over the weekend, news that one of Senator Obama's aunts has been living in the U.S. illegally. Do we know anything else about the story at this point? And is this the kind of thing that could have some traction at this late date?

RUDIN: I don't suspect so. I mean, there's been, you know - obviously, she's been said to be a legal alien living outside of Boston in a housing complex, I believe, and there's some - I don't think - with so many issues at stake and so many, you know - I think all the peripheral things have gone by the wayside. I suspect this won't change anything.

MARTIN: And let's talk about some of the battleground states. Perry, Joe Biden spent a lot of time in Pennsylvania. Most polls show Obama leading in that state. The McCain campaign insists it's still in play. Some independent Republican groups have started airing ads connecting Obama with some of the controversial aspects of the campaign with Reverend Jeremiah Wright. And how seriously do you think the Obama campaign is taking the prospects of a McCain surge in Pennsylvania?

Mr. BACON: I think they're taking them very seriously in that they had people going all over the state. You know, the two candidates are going to spend a lot of time going to a lot of states today trying to make sure their numbers are secured. The same to my thinking, Pennsylvania particularly, McCain has spent the last couple days there. But if you notice, Obama has not been there, and I think Biden on Friday declared he wasn't very worried about Pennsylvania. So I think that's one state where I'm interested to see what the numbers are tomorrow because Obama's campaign seems quite confident there and while McCain's campaign spent a lot of time there, as well. Also, we're going to watch closely Virginia and North Carolina and Missouri, the state where Biden is appearing today, and of course, Ohio is sort of the battleground it was four years ago, as well.

MARTIN: And Ken, I want to ask you about Pennsylvania and Ohio. Those are both states that Senator Clinton - in which Senator Clinton bested Barack Obama in the primary, and the narrative then was that he didn't have the same ability to connect with working-class, white voters. What's your take on that, especially now?

RUDIN: That's especially true in Pennsylvania, where she beat him by 10 points. I suspect, though, I think that Perry is right that John McCain is trailing in Pennsylvania, but here is where the math comes in. All the states that are leaning towards - that went for John Kerry in 2004 seem to be in Obama's camp. Look at these red states: Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Virginia. They seem to be leading towards Obama. For John McCain to win, he's got to pick up a red state, and that's why he's spending so much money and effort in Pennsylvania, maybe or not because he thinks he could win, but he's got to win a blue state if he's going to have any chance of reaching the 270 electoral votes.

MARTIN: And what is his likely constituency? Where is he likely to - is there a particular demographic group that's likely to be able to help him?

RUDIN: It would be a white culture - a socially conservative, pro-gun, pro-religious voters, and you've seen them outside of Philadelphia, outside of Pittsburgh. Those are two cities where Barack Obama will do very well. He's going to have to do well with suburban voters outside Philadelphia where Republicans have done well in the past, but they've been turned off, I think, to more harsh campaign rhetoric. But there's a still a lot of - look, John Murtha, the Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, said the other day that the western Pennsylvania, they're rednecks, they're racists. Now, there is - I'm not saying that...

MARTIN: Not helpful.

RUDIN: No, not helpful for the Democratic Party, but I think that has turned off a lot of Democratic voters, and it has even actually put John Murtha's seat in jeopardy. John McCain needs to reach out to either angry voters, disenchanted voters, people who are not sure about what a Barack Obama presidency would bring.

MARTIN: Equally doing well with men and women, or you think he is doing better with men?

RUDIN: McCain has always been doing better with men, as Republicans always do better with men. But even white women, which was the purpose of getting Sarah Palin on the ticket to begin with, are - seem to be, if leaning towards anyone, Barack Obama.

MARTIN: And Perry, finally, what's it like out there? Are you just ragged out and exhausted or are you - is there a sense of fun or you are you guys just limping to the finish here, just looking for your next can of red bowl and hoping to survive through tomorrow night?

Mr. BACON: Now that the end is near, you know, Biden seems a little looser, you know, in terms of like - he made a joke yesterday about being on stage, and you know, the teleprompter was moving too fast because he was sort of rambling along and clearly the person running the teleprompter want him to go back to the speech they had written for him, and he sort of complained, you know, let me just talk for a little while. And so it's a little more relaxed since there's only a day left.

And you know, for the candidates as well, I mean, a lot people have already voted. I think one of the staffers of course said the cake is baked to some extent. There are undecided left but you know, there's five or six percent, and we're not really sure what their - you know, it is not clear to me, you know, what else they're going to hear from the candidates that they don't know already. So it seems like, you know, sort of a relaxed process. It's kind of exhausting, and these days are very long at the end of the campaign. These guys are going to four or five rallies a day, and so it's a long day, but it's been - it's been an exciting election. It's good to be here at the finish.

MARTIN: All right. It's good to have you with us at the finish. Washington Post reporter Perry Bacon joined us from Kansas City, Missouri, where he's covering Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden, and NPR's political editor Ken Rudin joined us in our Washington studio. In his Political Junkie column, he will have calls on every Senate and House race, every governor's race, and the presidential race, state by state. So check that out at npr.org, and you can sound smart at your dinner party tonight. Thank you both.

RUDIN: Thanks, Michel. I can't wait to read that column.

Mr. BACON: Thank you.

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