STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Cokie Roberts performs flawlessly Monday after Monday here on MORNING EDITION. Cokie, good morning.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve. How are you doing?
INSKEEP: OK. I'm doing OK. I'm doing OK. So we're less than a month from voting day - the final voting day, I should say, since people are already voting in many places. Where does the race stand?
ROBERTS: It's tied. As you said earlier, it's tightened up. But in the RealClearPolitics averages, it shows presidential candidates tied, generic congressional vote tied, the president's approval rating basically tied. This is really a neck-and-neck election, including in some battleground states, like Colorado and Virginia, that had seemed to be breaking for Obama before last week's debate. And that debate has also helped energize the Romney campaign.
They claim that - their campaign claims that in the first 48 hours after the debate, they raised $12 million online, that 60 percent of that money was first-time donors, that their volunteers have increased by 63 percent. So it has really sent a spark of life into the Romney campaign.
INSKEEP: Do you have wait a little while to determine if something like that really changes the election, or is it longer term trends that really make a difference?
ROBERTS: Well, I think that the fundamentals of the election have been puzzling to Republicans all along, because when you have more than 40 months at 8 percent unemployment, the presidential approval rating that has been bumping below 50 percent, the growth rate as low as it is and people, by two to one, saying the country is off on the wrong track, and that should be in automatic incumbent-defeat territory.
And even though people say the economy is the number-one issue, and they say in a couple of polls that they think the economy will get better under Romney than it will under Obama, what's been frustrating for the Republicans is with all of that, Romney has not been able to break out with the voters. So the debate might have helped him there. But, yes, there are other things going on, as well.
The jobs reports on Friday showing the unemployment rate dropping below 8 percent was, you know, almost a little icing on the cake for the president, because Americans were already saying over the last several months that they think things are getting better, that they're personal economic situations are improving. And yes, they think the country is off on the wrong track, but that number has dropped dramatically over the last year.
And all of that adds up to a more optimistic electorate looking toward the future, and that's what elections are about: the future, not the past.
INSKEEP: So you have an economy that's weak, but it is perceived as gradually getting better. And you also have demographic trends that would favor the president.
ROBERTS: Very much so, and that's where Romney's just going to continue to have big problems. It's hard for me to believe that any number of Spanish-language TV ads that he makes with the governor of Puerto Rico are going to make up for the rhetoric of the Republican primaries and, much more important, those laws that were passed in many states similar to the Arizona immigration law and the fact that Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio was at the Republican Convention, it just taints the Republican brand with Latinos, and it could for generations to come.
And you add to that the voter ID laws that the Hispanics believe were designed to disenfranchise them, and you have a tough time getting them to vote Republican. You've already lost the African-Americans and, by and large, college-educated, white women are voting Democratic more and more. So it's - it's getting - getting to a majority, doing the arithmetic, it just becomes tough for Romney.
INSKEEP: Okay. One other thing, Cokie. I was watching TV yesterday. We're in Washington, D.C., so it's the northern Virginia market.
ROBERTS: You see all the Virginia ads. Right.
INSKEEP: Oh, my gosh. It was basically continuous political ads, occasionally interrupted by a football game. But is all that money on the air making a difference?
ROBERTS: Well, it certainly made a difference in creating a negative impression of Romney before he went up on the air after the conventions. But the National Journal has done an interesting study of all the ads in polling in battleground states and concluded they've helped Obama with non-college educated white women. Obama's been running ads in daytime TV, quoting Romney saying he'd stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
And according to this analysis, these women see the cutoff of funds to things like contraception as an economic issue, not a social issue, where they tend to agree more with Republicans. If Obama can do well with that group or at least better with that group than he has before, his numbers look good.
INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR's Cokie Roberts. And let's look at some of the numbers in tracking polls, which interview voters day by day. The Gallup survey found Obama five points ahead before the debate, tied afterwards. The Rasmussen tracking poll is also tied. This is NPR News.
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