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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. We have our Friday features for you - as always, the Barbershop guys on the week's politics, sports and culture, and in Faith Matters, the battle over gay marriage in California. African-American clergy have been at the forefront of other civil-rights struggle, so what do they have to say about this fight? But first, our weekly political chat.

With just over a week to go before Election Day, the national polls are grabbing the headlines. But the real campaign takes place state by state. So, we're going to dig in on a couple of key states and regions with the help of my NPR colleagues, Ken Rudin and Michele Norris. Ken Rudin, first, Southern states have remained solidly in a Republican camp for decades of presidential contests. But Democratic nominee Barack Obama pledged to fight in that region, and that's brought renewed attention to Southern voters. A new Winthrop/ETV Poll released last night takes a look at three traditionally Republican states in the South and how they could affect the election. The survey covers likely voters in Virginia, North Carolina and Southern - and South Carolina. Political editor Ken Rudin, welcome back.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: The poll looked at about 2,000 people randomly selected from list of registered voters. They focused on two categories, white women and working-class whites. Why is that?

RUDIN: Well, one reason I think is that that seemed to be the demographic set Barack Obama seemed to have the most trouble with it. If you look at the Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky primaries in his race against Hillary Clinton, it was working-class whites that he had the most problem with, women - white women he had the most problems with, and I suspect one of the reasons John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate was that she would appeal to both demographics.

MARTIN: The - I think that - the finding that has seemed to have attracted a lot of attention is that at one point, Virginia and North Carolina seemed almost certainly in the McCain camp, but now the polls suggest Obama actually enjoys a slight lead in both states. North Carolina hasn't supported a Democrat since Jimmy Carter.

RUDIN: In '76.

MARTIN: In '76. Virginia, not since...

RUDIN: Lynden Johnson in '64.

MARTIN: Lyndon Johnson. What's going on?

RUDIN: Whodathunkit? Well, a lot of it is African-American voters, and both in North Carolina and Virginia, Barack Obama has inspired a huge turnout, expected turnout. Early voting numbers we've already seen in the North Carolina show that of the folks who have already voted in North Carolina, overwhelming majority are Democrats. So, this is very good news for the Democrats, again, in two states where they haven't won in decades.

MARTIN: But haven't they always been Democrats? Or there was some demographic shift of their - is there a demographic change? I mean...

RUDIN: More of it. It's more, more blacks, more new voters, more young voters. They're coming out in droves. There was a lot of enthusiasm. One, there's a lot of enthusiasm for Barack Obama, and the Republican base is still not excited about John McCain. Of course, you know, Sarah Palin did help, but we saw Colin Powell, Scott McClellan - there was some - a bunch of defections, not major defections, but some defections from a Republican - from the Bush coalition that elected George W. Bush in 2000, 2004 that gives the Republicans nervousness in 2008.

MARTIN: And yet, there's a - the poll concludes that John McCain has a 20-point lead in South Carolina. What's the...

RUDIN: Well, South Carolina is very conservative, very military-oriented - and it's ironic and I think I heard in your voice - but South Carolina, when you think of the great moments for Barack Obama in the primary season, South Carolina was one of the amazing victory hits, a stunning victory with the help of African-American voters in the South Carolina primary. But that is still conservative country. You have still two Republican, conservative senators, Republican governor as well a Republican state. Virginia, for example, has elected a Democratic governor. Jim Webb was elected to the Senate two years ago. Mark Warner is likely to win the Senate race this year. North Carolina, you have a Democratic governor and Democratic senators. So, I think those states have been more hospitable to Democratic candidates.

MARTIN: It's just interesting because it just shows you North Carolina and South Carolina, literally side by side, but with very sort of different dynamics on the ground.

RUDIN: And the fact that we're talking about these states 10 days or so before the election is amazing, because when was the last time we talked about Virginia or North Carolina being in play? And they're certainly in play in 2008.

MARTIN: You talked earlier about John McCain's choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, how this energized some portion of the Republican base, but it has not been a totally good-news story. There's - I think the interesting headline there is - what in, Virginia...?

RUDIN: Well, are people are more excited about her - the pick of a more apt to vote for John McCain? Did they appreciate his judgment? Do they think his judgment showed - did John McCain show good judgment in picking Sarah Palin? I think on all three, that's no. The boost that Sarah Palin gave the Republican ticket shortly after the St. Paul convention seemed to have dissipated, and more and more people have seen her as almost like a caricature. Now, there are people - she does excite the base. She does get huge crowds, but if the goal, the name the game, was to get independent voters, disaffected Democrats who may not have been happy about Barack Obama, Sarah Palin didn't do the trick.

MARTIN: And also in Virginia, among white, women voters, almost 40 percent said that John McCain's choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin made them less likely to support the ticket.

RUDIN: Yeah, obviously it backfired, and I think, you know, the choice of - there weren't many great choices for John McCain to pick a vice president. There were many white-bread choices -Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, people like that - but that would not excite a lot - a large portion of the crowd. McCain thought that Palin would do the trick, but again, watching her with Katie Couric, watching her being satirized by comedians everywhere, including Tina Fey, a lot of people are not sure if it's Tina Fey or Sarah Palin is actually the running mate. But a lot of problems with the Republican choices, and again, he was hoping that would boost the ticket, and in many states, it's been a drawback.

MARTIN: It's a very interesting story, and I can't wait to see how it comes out. NPR's political editor Ken Rudin here with us in the studio.

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