Today's Papers

Waiting for Tonight

This is it. After so much buildup, voters will finally head to the polls and decide who will be moving into the White House. USA Todayreminds readers that whatever happens, it will be a historic election as voters will either elect the first African-American president or the oldest first-term president. The Washington Postbanners a two-story lead detailing how each candidate spent Election Day eve. Barack Obama campaigned in Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia while dealing with news that his ailing maternal grandmother had died overnight. For his part, John McCain went on a seven-state sprint through Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona, desperately hoping to prove all the polls wrong.

The New York Timesleads with a look at how much the Longest Presidential Campaign in History “fundamentally upended” the rules for running a presidential campaign. “I think we’ll be analyzing this election for years as a seminal, transformative race,” said Mark McKinnon, a senior adviser to President Bush’s campaigns. Few people have patience for that now though, notes the Los Angeles Timesin its lead spot that points out how anxiety is running rampant among supporters of both parties who just want it to be over so they can move on with their lives. Under a banner headline, the Wall Street Journal makes it clear that whoever wins tonight will have little time to rest as he will have to begin working on a number of economic issues long before settling in to the Oval Office.

If the polls are to be believed, there isn’t much mystery to who will be crowned as the victor tonight. But that doesn’t mean the broadcast and cable networks aren’t planning an appropriate sendoff to the Longest Presidential Campaign in History. The LAT fronts, and the NYT goes inside with, a look at how networks vowed not to call the race until someone actually reaches the required 270 electoral votes, but there is a (slim) chance that Obama might be declared the winner before polls close in California. And besides, executives made sure to emphasize that their on-air talent won’t be shy about using language to indicate which way the race is headed. They contend it would be silly for them to pretend they don’t have the same information that any of their viewers could easily find online. Slate’s editor tells the NYT that he could foresee calling the race “sometime between 8 and 9” if Obama goes on a winning streak. “Our readers are not stupid, and we shouldn’t engage in a weird Kabuki drama that pretends McCain could win California and thus the presidency,” he said.

Everyone—including Slate’s John Dickerson—publishes a guide to watching the returns tonight. The NYT handily, albeit cornily, divides its guide up into easy-to-follow quick bites that could serve as a cheat sheet for what to watch out for as the night progresses. Those looking for more detail would do well to check out USAT’s guide that delves deep into a few key states and explains why, for one night at least, you should care about what happens in places like Boone County, Mo. For its part, the WSJ posts a handy PDF viewing guide, which includes a few key Senate races, that could make you a hit at your election-night party.

Obsession with the election might be rampant, but the world keeps on turning. The WSJ fronts word that the Treasury Department is expanding its program to purchase stakes in banks and insurers to include a broad range of financial companies. The focus is on companies that might not fit the criteria for eligibility that was outlined by the Treasury but still provide financing to the broader economy and have been hit hard by the credit crisis. This means the government could end up owning a bigger slice of the American financial system than was previously envisioned. But the problem is, where would they draw the line? Many entities have asked for a piece of the $700 billion pie and any expansion of the program is bound to bring about complaints from those that were left out.

The NYT goes inside with a look at how the entire process of selecting who gets government money is shrouded in secrecy. A committee of five government officials, with the help of a 40-member staff, reviews the applications and makes a decision based on criteria that have been kept secret. It obviously isn’t easy to decide who gets to live, but the whole process is made much more complicated by the fact that decisions need to be made quickly.

The NYT gets word that a local Afghan police chief and a local government official helped the Taliban carry out the well-coordinated attack on a remote American outpost in July that killed nine U.S. soldiers. The paper got a look at an internal military review that found evidence of this cooperation and reported that local villagers had repeatedly warned U.S. troops an attack was coming. Both officials were detained after the attack but quickly released and a spokesman for the Afghan Defense Ministry said American officials had never discussed these issues with them. The report doesn’t assign blame to any commanders but makes clear that soldiers at the remote outpost were particularly vulnerable, partly because it took so long to settle on a site for the outpost that it gave insurgents plenty of time to organize an attack.

Across the border from Afghanistan, the Pakistani government has been making a habit of loudly complaining about U.S. airstrikes within its borders. But it’s all for show, says the WP’s David Ignatius. Washington and Pakistan have come to an understanding on the U.S. airstrikes and have even come up with a list of approved targets. Meanwhile, U.S. officials may be happy about the cooperation but “they’re still nervous” because it’s unclear how long they can keep the ruse up in a country where cooperation with the United States could easily end a political career.

The WP goes inside with a  look at how President Bush’s plan to protect “two vast areas of the Pacific Ocean” is facing resistance from within his own administration. The first lady is pushing for the expanded protections, but Vice President Cheney and some local officials  are speaking up against the plan saying that it would hurt the region’s economy. The original plan has already been scaled back and now there’s a question of whether Bush will manage to approve any further protections before he leaves office.

The LAT points out that the economic slump has hit the oldest profession particularly hard. The women who work in many of Nevada’s legal brothels are having trouble making ends meet, particularly since many of the long-haul truckers that are an important customer base don’t have as much disposable income as they used to. Now, the few who do venture inside often eschew any of the pricey extras and try to bargain.

After such a long campaign, the WP’s Robert Kaiser asks an uncomfortable question: Did any of it matter? Were all those ads and countless hours of criss-crossing the country really important in determining tonight’s outcome? As far as the general election is concerned, many political scientists believe the outcome was known a few months ago and had little to do with whether Obama ran his campaign well. One professor, Alan Abramowitz has been making predictions every four years since 1952 and they’ve been eerily accurate (except for 2000, when he predicted Al Gore would win). Back in August, he said Obama would win 54 percent to 45 percent. The final WP/ABC poll put Obama ahead by 53-44. Many scholars say journalists overvalue campaigns and don’t pay enough attention to what really matters, such as the state of the economy, party identification, and the popularity of the incumbent president. But even if campaigns don’t have a real effect on the outcome that’s not to say they don’t matter. “Saying that campaigns don’t matter,” one expert tells the WP, “is like saying, ‘Do we have to have the wedding?’ But that’s how the families get to know each other.”