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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Jay Cost is a political analyst writing at the website RealClearPolitics. His piece this week on the state of the race assesses Senator McCain's comeback prospects as, quote, "quite difficult but not inconceivable." Jay Cost, welcome to Day to Day. That's hardly a warm embrace for Senator McCain, but I did follow your thoughts on what he can do at this point. What is it?

Mr. JAY COST (Political Analyst, RealClearPolitics): Well, I think that McCain has a very, very difficult task in front of him, and what he needs to do is create an alternative image of Barack Obama, something different than what the Obama campaign would like the public to see.

CHADWICK: You go back to look at what happened in the Democratic primary season, when Senator Obama was unable to bring it to a close for a very, very long time.

Mr. COST: Yes, I thought it was interesting that Obama is really the first nominee, in the open era of the nomination process beginning in the '70s, to never really develop momentum over his opponent.

CHADWICK: You think he has a genuine vulnerability on the matter of experience, and you remind people of this ad that Senator McCain ran during the Democratic convention in August, but not since then. Here's a little clip from that, featuring Senator Hillary Clinton in the debate.

(Soundbite of McCain campaign ad)

(Soundbite of TV show "CNN's The Situation Room," March 6, 2008)

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Republican, New York): When that phone rings, whether it's three p.m. or three a.m. in the White House, there is no time for speeches and on-the-job training. Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign, I will bring a lifetime of experience, and Senator Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002.

CHADWICK: That's pretty tough from Hillary Clinton in the Democratic debates. You think there should be more of that, but there must be a reason why Senator McCain's campaign isn't using that ad anymore.

Mr. COST: It's interesting because - while watching the McCain campaign, of course, because McCain has gone from Bill Ayres to, you know, Joe the Plumber in the course of two weeks. It's quite a, you know, rough transition, and it signals to me that, you know, his campaign really hasn't found a salient critique yet.

CHADWICK: You're speaking with us from Pittsburg. In April, right after the Pennsylvania primary, you wrote a big piece asking if Senator Obama can get white, working-class votes there. Senator McCain now appears to be betting his entire campaign on the answer to that question about Pennsylvania. You concluded in your piece that you didn't know the answer six months ago. What about now?

Mr. COST: You know, that's a great question. It's really hard, I think, even still. One thing we do know is the Battleground Poll, which is sponsored by George Washington University, has a very helpful breakdown of favorability ratings for the candidates by race and age and socioeconomic status. And Battleground finds that Obama's position is weakest among the white working class. But of course, the problem for McCain in Pennsylvania is, there are these large cities with suburban populations that had been voting Republican in cycles past, but in the last few cycles have been trending Democratic, and by all appearances, they seem to be leaning towards Obama even more so. And so, even if here in western Pennsylvania he does - McCain does well among working-class whites, you know, Obama might be able to counter that with improved performance among, you know, college-educated whites in the Philadelphia suburbs.

CHADWICK: Jay Cost is a Pennsylvania-based political analyst. He writes at realclearpolitics.com. Jay, thank you.

Mr. COST: Thank you very much.

CHADWICK: And NPR's Day to Day continues.

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