Take a deep breath, we’re almost there. As the candidates race toward the finish line, all the papers lead with the final hours of the Longest Presidential Race in History. USA Todayand the Wall Street Journal lead with new weekend polls that continue to show Barack Obama with a commanding lead. USAT gives Obama an 11-percentage-point advantage and says his lead is widening, while the WSJ puts the Democrat ahead by 8 percentage points and says his lead is tightening. The WSJ poll reports that 6 percent of voters remain undecided, although one-third of them say they’re likely to support a third-party candidate. USAT notes that at a time when a record-low 13 percent are satisfied with the country’s direction, two-thirds say they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting.
The Washington Postleads with a look at how the candidates continued to spit out attacks yesterday, which marks a change from the usual pattern of turning positive before Election Day. The Los Angeles Timesleads with candidates’ last mad dash to try to convince undecided voters by sticking “to the basics.” Obama emphasized his early opposition to the Iraq war and tied his opponent to President Bush, while John McCain focused on taxes and national security and warned supporters about the possibility that Democrats would win control of Congress as well as the White House. The New York Timesleads with congressional Republicans’ frantic efforts to prevent a Democratic sweep on Tuesday.
The latest polls give some insight into how Obama has been able to hold on to his lead. The WSJ points out voters are now just as likely to identify with Obama’s background and values as they are with McCain’s, which illustrates how the Democrat has been able to close a significant gap that many predicted would prevent him from sealing the deal with voters. USAT’s poll suggests McCain no longer has a lead in national-security issues, and his incessant focus on taxes isn’t helping him much with voters, as 48 percent say their taxes would be higher under Obama, while 50 percent say the same thing about McCain.
The LAT points out that the last-minute issues emphasized by the candidates appeared to be focused on trying to appeal to older white women, who make up the largest bloc of undecided voters. The long-held practice of ending presidential campaigns on a positive note may just be another tradition that the Longest Presidential Race in History leaves to the history books, suggests the WP. “There is such a small slice of undecided out there, I think both sides are going to finish the campaign really going after them,” a Republican strategist said. The Republican Party unleashed robo-calls that used the words of Sen. Hillary Clinton to criticize the Democratic candidate, and a GOP group aired a television advertisement featuring Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The Obama campaign also got in the game and quickly released a new ad that used Vice President Cheney’s endorsement of the Republican candidate to tie McCain to Bush once again.
The WP points out that those looking for a quick guide to which states they should be paying attention to on Tuesday night would do well to follow the candidates’ schedules in the closing days of the campaign: Ohio, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico, and Nevada. None of these looms larger than Ohio, a must-win state for McCain where Obama spent all of Sunday. Both the LAT and WP front dispatches from Ohio and say Obama certainly appears to have the organizational edge in the state that was crucial to Bush’s victory in 2004.
Democrats are doing everything they can to capitalize on the negative feelings about President Bush and the economy in order to go after congressional seats in areas that make up the traditional Republican base, particularly in the suburbs. And Democrats are putting their money where their hopes are. Senate Democrats have spent more than $67 million in advertising, compared with $33.7 million by Republicans. Underscoring just how much the GOP is playing defense, House Republicans have spent most of their money trying to protect incumbents and districts where one of their own is retiring. Meanwhile, those worried about what they’ll do with themselves after all the votes are counted have reason to hope it might not be all over tomorrow, at least as far as the Senate is concerned, because the Georgia candidates might have to face a runoff if neither gets 50 percent of the vote.
The WSJ takes a look at the ground-game operations of each party and says that while Democrats have set up 770 field offices nationwide, Republicans have about 370 offices across the country. This marks a significant change for Democrats, who had often relied on outside groups to lead their ground efforts.
How are the presidential candidates holding up on the home stretch? The NYT fronts, and the LAT goes inside with, a look at how McCain seems determined to remain in high spirits. He has surrounded himself with close friends and, as the LAT highlights, appears intent on returning to the “happy warrior” image that defined him in the primaries. “He has, by all appearances, decided he will get to Tuesday by having a good time,” notes the NYT. Obama, for his part, still remains much harder to read, note the NYT and LAT. The LAT highlights how Obama seemed more upbeat than usual yesterday, but his good cheer may have had as much to do with the fact that his wife and daughters were with him than with his lead in the polls. Most of all, says the NYT, Obama just wants the campaign to be over. Both Obama and McCain write op-ed pieces in the WSJ today that rehash their main arguments for the campaign.
The NYT’s Paul Krugman predicts that if the polls are correct and the Republicans lose big tomorrow, the GOP’s base will “become more, not less, extreme.” This will be partly due to the likelihood that many Republican moderates will lose their seats in Congress but also due to the party’s base getting ready to see the defeat as a big conspiracy rather than a verdict on the Bush tenure. And as the GOP accelerates its path toward becoming “the party of the unreasonable right, a haven for racists and reactionaries” it will put moderate conservatives in an unenviable dilemma.
On the WP’s op-ed page, E.J. Dionne Jr. writes that Obama became a successful candidate by anticipating an opening for his ideas and neatly carving a narrative, which, coupled with a strong organizational structure, allowed him to establish himself as a leader. Although it’s still too early to write McCain’s obituary, “there seems to be an inexorable quality to Obama’s rise this year because he is the first truly 21st-century figure in American politics” writes Dionne. “He is the innovator who has set the standard for the next political era.”