Here at the final table . . .
Barack Obama won't be answering questions . . .
John McCain won't be having another town hall . . .
Obama is giving Sarah Palin more airtime than McCain is . . .
Both candidates get one final messaging shot, on "Monday Night Football" . . .
The expanded map is shrinking into focus . . .
And, as always, it's about the stubborn math.
The presidential candidates are taking their final, hectic laps through the states that will determine the election with the typical last-minute barbs and surprise (but not really) new attack lines.
Less than 24 hours before the voting starts, it's really this simple: If McCain stands a realistic chance, all the numbers and the smart folks have to be systematically and completely wrong -- or need to be made wrong inside of 24 hours.
Messaging and prognosticating are subsumed by realities like turnout at this stage -- and numbers, at last, take over for spin. That means an even narrower path to victory for a campaign that's trying to do more than just go through the final, inevitable motions.
"Heading into Tuesday's election, every major independent poll gives Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama the lead over his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times. "In the state-by-state matchup, the news is also good for Mr. Obama -- the polls suggest he will easily flip Iowa, which went Republican in 2004, and has a lead in a series of other traditionally Republican 'red' states: Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico."
ABC's George Stephanopoulos notes the relatively stability of the polls, and the shrinking universe of undecideds: "We think only 8 percent [of the remaining voters] are undecided, and we think they break pretty evenly for McCain and Obama," he said on "Good Morning America" Monday.
Six big battlegrounds close their polls by 8 pm ET: Indiana, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Florida. To have a realistic shot at 270, McCain needs to win at least five out of the six.
Predictions, from Stephanopoulos and his "This Week" roundtable: Stephanopoulos sees 353 Obama electoral votes, plus 58 Democratic Senate seats; George Will says 378 and 59; Matthew Dowd, 338 and 59; Mark Halperin 349 and 58 members of the Senate Democratic caucus.
"Barring an extraordinary shock, Barack Obama will win more than 270 electoral votes on Tuesday, giving him the White House. Hours before voting starts, John McCain has no clear path to reaching that same goal," Halperin writes. "In fact, based on interviews with political strategists in both parties, election analysts and advisers to both presidential campaigns -- including a detailed look at public and private polling data -- an Obama victory with well over 300 electoral votes is a more likely outcome than a McCain victory."
Get ready for a fierce close: McCain hits seven states in his final full day of campaigning: Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico, Nevada, and Arizona.
Obama visits Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia on Monday.
Palin stumps in Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Colorado, and Nevada; for Biden, it's Missouri, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
"We think we can catch this guy," McCain guru Mark Salter tells The Washington Post's Libby Copeland.
"At the very end of the marathon, you get your second wind," said Sarah Palin.
"During stops in Pennsylvania, which Democrat John Kerry won four years ago, McCain said he remains 'a few points' behind rival Barack Obama in the Keystone State. McCain is seven points behind in the latest USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, but the GOP nominee predicted a historic comeback," USA Today's David Jackson writes.
The last hope: The undecideds. "If Barack Obama hasn't closed the deal with them after two years in the campaign and a year as the nominee of their party, maybe they're holding out for a good reason," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters late Sunday, per Politico's Jonathan Martin.
Check this for tone, though: "One candidate's got clean uniforms, a lot of training and all the money in the world. I feel like I'm the Tampa Bay Rays playing against the New York Yankees." On the market turmoil: "The politics played out poorly for us."
Close with a smile, anyone? "The waning hours of the longest presidential campaign in history elicited a fresh round of stinging attacks from Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain and their supporters on Sunday, a departure from the positive messages that candidates normally revert to before an election," Shailagh Murray, Juliet Eilperin and Robert Barnes write for The Washington Post.
"As the electoral map shrinks in these final hours, Ohio has become a must-win for McCain. But if Obama succeeds here, it will avenge not only the Kerry and Gore defeats but also his loss to Clinton during the primary, a defeat that underscored Obama's struggles with working-class white voters," they write.
In Ohio, and elsewhere: "It's downright Rove-ian, by design. Team Obama is mimicking the get-out-the-vote strategy refined by Karl Rove, Bush's reviled election mastermind, who mobilized armies of people to get their neighbors out to vote for Bush in 2000 and 2004," Michael McAuliff writes in the New York Daily News.
On the other side: "John McCain has targeted this wealthy area just north of Columbus as one of 15 counties in Ohio where he needs to drive up his vote tally if he is to beat Barack Obama on Tuesday in this must-win state," Bob Drogin and Robin Abcarian report in the Los Angeles Times. "But on Friday night, only nine volunteers manned the 24 phones in the McCain campaign office. The phone bank began operating on a daily basis just two weeks ago. And since then, only five people have shown up on most weekdays to canvass local neighborhoods."
A last burst of battleground-state polling, from Quinnipiac:
Ohio: Obama 50, McCain 43
Florida: Obama 47, McCain 45
Pennsylvania: Obama 52, McCain 42
Even a tight Florida race doesn't qualify as good news for a campaign that will look for it anywhere these days.
It's 54-43 in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll: "Barack Obama, closing strongly in the campaign's final weekend, matched his best advantage over John McCain to date in the latest ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes. "Economic concerns are pushing his support beyond the Democratic base to unusual levels in the political center and even among more traditionally Republican groups."
Langer continues: "Part of Obama's advantage comes from his campaign's ability to turn out early voters; 27 percent say they've already cast their ballots, a strongly pro-Obama group, 59-40 percent. Among first-time voters, moreover, Obama has a nearly 2-1 advantage; many of them are young, and young voters are his strongest supporters."
What's left in the arsenal? "With one day to go, Democrat Barack Obama appears to have rebuffed recent GOP efforts to label him as 'too liberal' or too big a gamble," Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta report in The Washington Post. "The McCain campaign, meanwhile, has countered with improved outreach into the tossup states, neutralizing what had been a big advantage for the Democrat 10 days ago. More than a third of all voters in the six states The Post calls 'up for grabs' -- Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Montana, Missouri and Indiana -- said they have heard from the McCain campaign in the past week. That is up sharply from the third week of October and on par with the number who have been contacted by Obama's campaign."
Florida, Florida: "Leading slightly in the polls and banking on a cushion of early votes, the Democratic ticket is trying to position Florida as the backbreaker of McCain's presidential bid," per The Miami Herald. "Democratic nominee Barack Obama plans to close out his campaign Monday in Jacksonville, a heavily Republican area, while McCain will finish in Tampa Bay, an enclave of swing voters."
Early voting ended in the Sunshine State, strong: "More than a third of the state's registered voters have cast ballots for Tuesday's election, according to numbers released Sunday by the state elections division," Mike Brassfield writes in the St. Petersburg Times.
In North Carolina: "With early N.C. voting completed Saturday, 466,000 of 869,000 new voters (people who registered to vote since Jan 1, 2008) have cast ballots. That's a startling new voter turnout rate of 54 percent, with Election Day yet to come. Previously registered N.C. voters are turning out at a 40 percent rate," per the Charlotte Observer.
In time for closing messaging? "Barack Obama's nuanced position on same-sex marriage is on full display in an MTV interview which is set to air on Monday," per ABC's Teddy Davis, Sunlen Miller, Tahman Bradley, and Rigel Anderson.
"Obama told MTV he believes marriage is [between a man and a woman' and that he is 'not in favor of gay marriage.' At the same time, Obama reiterated his opposition to Proposition 8, the California ballot measure which would eliminate a right to same-sex marriage that the state's Supreme Court recently recognized," they report.
Is there time to make this a campaign issue, too? "A phalanx of liberal think tanks and interest groups -- anticipating a Democratic victory on Tuesday -- are mobilizing to push Sen. Barack Obama to the left of his campaign positions," Corey Dade reports in The Wall Street Journal. "Left-leaning activists are trying to replicate the surge of conservative interest groups under the Reagan administration that shaped Republican politics for the next three decades, staking out positions well to the left of how Sen. Obama has tried to define himself near the political center."
Obama weighs in on the aunt who's in the country illegally: "If she has violated laws, then those laws have to be obeyed," he tells CBS' Katie Couric.
Do a few shouted questions get Obama rattled? ABC's Jake Tapper has been making "Sam Donaldsons" part of the campaign routine, and on Sunday Obama said he wouldn't answer a question but would hold a press conference Wednesday.
Well . . . "Likely not," said Obama spokeswoman Linda Douglass. "It was just a placeholder." http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2008/11/obama-presser-o.html
Caroline Kennedy will get a question in if she wants one: "It will be great to call them up the morning after," she told ABC's Diane Sawyer on "GMA."
Another new TV ad featuring the Rev. Jeremiah Wright joins the National Republican Trust's ad in the rotation. This one, courtesy of the Pennsylvania GOP: "Barack Obama, he chose as a pastor a man who blamed the U.S. for the 9/11 attacks. Does that sound like someone who should be president?"
With Wright newly in the mix, this isn't the help Obama needs. "He didn't have the political courage to make the statement of walking out" of Wright's church, said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., in a YouTubed clip. "It tells me that he wasn't terribly political courageous. Does it tell me that he agreed with the reverend in any way? No. It tells me he didn't want to walk out of a church in his district."
Was more Wright the answer? "Conversations with a number of veteran GOP consultants indicate that using Wright may have helped McCain with one set of voters -- but would have hurt with others and not ultimately proved decisive in a contest subsumed by larger external forces such as the economic crisis and the unpopularity of President Bush and the Republican Party," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports.
More new messaging: "The Republican Party on Sunday launched robocalls to millions of voters in battleground states, playing audio of Hillary Clinton in the primary election portraying her then-opponent Barack Obama as too inexperienced to run against John McCain," per McClatchy's Margaret Talev and William Douglas.
Even more new messaging: "[Palin] made reference to a taped conversation that Obama had with a San Francisco newspaper in January in which he said that companies building coal-powered plants would be 'bankrupt' because of fines for pollution," Howard Wilkinson writes in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Said Palin: "Somehow this tape just surfaced now."
Wilkinson: "That prompted several people in the back of the crowd, near the press area, to yell at reporters -- 'Why don't you report this?' and 'The media is evil.' "
The outside money did start showing up -- just very, very late: "Between Oct. 19 and Thursday, independent groups spent $33.4 million on advertisements, mailings or canvassing in support of Mr. McCain or against Mr. Obama, while groups that support Mr. Obama or oppose Mr. McCain spent $8.1 million, according to an analysis of records filed at the Federal Election Commission," Jennifer Haberkorn writes in the Washington Times.
Joe the Pundit is maybe less effective than Joe the Plumber: "There's too many questions with Barack Obama and his loyalty to our country. And I question that greatly," Samuel J. Wurzelbacher tells Fox News' Neil Cavuto. "His ideology is completely different from what democracy stands for."
But will any attacks work? It's 51-43 in the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.
"The Republican was still hoping he could gain further traction in the campaign's closing hours with now-familiar charges that Sen. Obama is too liberal and not ready for the job," Laura Meckler and Jonathan Weisman write in The Wall Street Journal. "McCain advisers say that, in the end, undecided voters will break his way, saying they look more like typical Republican voters than Democrats. Both candidates were appealing over the weekend to that small pool of undecided voters, as they worked to turn their troops out to the polls on Tuesday."
Part of why the race looks stuck: "Mr. Obama, the first black major party presidential nominee, trails among whites by less than Democratic nominees normally do," John Harwood writes in The New York Times. "Whatever the cause, when combined with his two-to-one edge among Hispanics and his 10-to-1 edge among blacks, it has given him a national election-eve lead."
How Obama is closing: "In this 20-month long campaign I have seldom seen Obama bring the full power of his oratory to the biggest possible crowd his campaign can build. That is, until this week," Time's Jay Newton-Small writes. "As the long campaign nears the end, the campaign has stopped shying away from such huge audiences, and the crowds have been stunning: 100,000 in St. Louis, 75,000 in Kansas City, 100,000 in Denver, 45,000 in Fort Collins, Colorado, 50,000 in Albuquerque."
Bill Kristol writes that it still can come together for McCain: "It's possible. What if the polls, for various reasons, are overstating Obama's support by a couple points? And what if the late deciders break overwhelmingly against Obama, as they did in the Democratic primaries? McCain could then thread the Electoral College needle," Kristol writes in his New York Times column. "It's an inside straight. But I've seen gamblers draw them."
Bloomberg's Al Hunt names some winners (David Axelrod) and losers (Steve Schmidt), and nominates a new figures for loserdom: "Newt Kristorris, a composite of conservative pundits Newt Gingrich, Bill Kristol and Dick Morris. Kristol, the only one with an intellectual and moral compass, has had a tough year."
Is this spreading the wealth? "Senate Democrats were active in nine states where Republicans are running for re-election; House Democrats, meanwhile, bought advertising in 63 districts, twice the number of districts where Republicans bought advertisements and helped candidates," Carl Hulse reports in The New York Times. "House Democrats are taking aim at vacant seats and incumbents in suburban and even more outlying areas -- the traditional foundation of Republican power in the House."
Sais Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va.: "We are playing basketball in our street shoes and long pants, and the Democrats have on their uniforms and Chuck Taylors."
Palin 2012? (What does it say that she's flying home to vote?)
"The absentee ballot that has been on her plane for five days would be easier. Palin prefers to make the long trip home, where television footage at small-town polling place will underscore Palin's appeal as a frontier hockey mom who's revved up Republican conservatives," Bloomberg's Hans Nichols writes. Said Richard Land, of the Southern Baptist Convention: "She has star power. . . . The base identifies with her. That's the harmony. The melody is that she has a gift -- star power."
Romney 2012? (What does it say that he's still flying around for McCain?)
"[Former governor Mitt] Romney has been among the most active foot soldiers" for McCain, writes The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes. "Come Tuesday, he will have hit nine states in the final five days of the election on behalf of the Republican presidential nominee. Since April, Mr. Romney has campaigned for candidates in 28 House races, five Senate races and a pair of gubernatorial ones. He has contributed more than $400,000 through his political-action committee, including help for about 80 Republican candidates, said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom."
Romney weighs in the Palin choice, on "GMA": "Sarah Palin has been highly effective," he said. "She was the right choice for John McCain . . . It's a choice that, net-net, has helped John McCain."
Clinton 2016? (Or name your year?)
"Watching Mrs. Clinton campaign for her old rival, masking what friends say is lingering disappointment, it is easy to recall happier days," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times. "While she often said, during her 17-month race, that it took 'a Clinton to clean up after a Bush,' she has now tweaked that line a bit. 'It took a Democratic president to clean up after the first President Bush.' "
"For the friends and allies already thinking about Mrs. Clinton's political future, the possibility of a victory by Senator John McCain on Tuesday would upend an array of assumptions, not least of which that Mrs. Clinton -- if she were to run again -- would not do so until 2016, when she would be turning 69," Healy writes. "At the same time, under a McCain presidency, Mrs. Clinton could be well positioned, given her friendship with him and good standing among Washington Republicans, to help him with a Democratic-led Congress on alternative energy, which they have both highlighted on the campaign trail."
The relationship that will continue to matter quite a bit: "Obama's embrace of Hillary Rodham Clinton's domestic agenda, the former first couple's admiration for his political acumen and the healing power of time and distance after a bruising 17-month primary battle all have had an ameliorative effect on what once appeared to be an irreparable rift," Carrie Budoff Brown and Glenn Thrush write for Politico.
"The detente undoubtedly has its benefits for the Clintons, who would be permanently damaged if their fellow Democrats so much as suspected they were only halfheartedly behind the nominee. And an additional force is pushing them closer together: Hillary Clinton's belief that a President John McCain would, more or less, destroy America."
Looking forward to future Senate races, if Sen. Mitch McConnell is in trouble . . . "Republicans plan to retaliate in 2010 by doing the same thing to the Democratic leader, Nevada's Harry Reid, who will be trying to win another six-year term," Lisa Mascaro reports in the Las Vegas Sun. "The tactics of both sides are a stark departure from the decorum in Senate races that prevailed for more than a century. Campaigns operated within their own state borders, with the understanding that out-of-state senators wouldn't cross state lines to campaign against a member of the opposing party."
Can Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, hang on? "Battling to keep the job he's held for 40 years, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens plans to appeal directly to voters in a two-minute commercial on television stations across the state tonight," Kyle Hopkins reports in the Anchorage Daily News.
The proto-strategist? ABC's Jonathan Karl reviews a new biography of Samuel Adams: "While it is true that he ran his father's Boston malt house for a time, he was perhaps the most forceful single figure behind the American Revolution. He was also America's first great political operative, mastering the arts of spin and strategy in ways that future generations of David Axelrods and Lee Atwaters could profitably emulate," Karl writes in The Wall Street Journal.
Karl continues: "This Adams wasn't playing for the history books. He was trying to plot a revolution. Mr. Stoll makes a convincing case that Samuel Adams is not just the most underrated of the Founders but also one of the most admirable, down-to-earth and principled (he worked to abolish slavery). I'd also add that if the pollsters' question 'Who would you want to have a beer with?' were asked of the Founders, a good answer would be: Samuel Adams."
And Hollywood mattered this election cycle -- for better and worse. "Face it, when even Joe the Plumber can't resist the trappings of fame -- he's pursuing a recording contract -- you know that the anti-Hollywood argument is wilting," Variety's Ted Johnson writes.
"Either way, you'll be seeing a lot more of him. It seems Joe the Plumber, whose real name is Samuel J. "Joe" Wurzelbacher, has not tired of the spotlight. He's hired himself a publicity team to handle the flood of media and appearance requests that have poured in since the presidential debate made him a household name," per ABC's Luchina Fisher. "I have 300 requests on my desk today," his Nashville-based publicist, Jim Della Croce, told ABCNews.com on Friday, "personal appearances, endorsements, interviews -- anything a celebrity would expect."
In his sprint to the finish, John McCain has seven rallies in seven states on election eve. His first is at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa at 9 am ET, then it's off to Blountville, Tenn. at 11:45 am ET, followed by Pittsburgh at 1:50 pm ET. Then it's working with time zones -- heading west for Indianapolis at 4 pm ET, Roswell, N.M. at 8 pm ET, Henderson Nev. at 10:45 pm ET, and finally Prescott, Ariz., at 2 am ET.
Sarah Palin is just as busy as her running mate, with six rallies scheduled Monday. She begins in Lakewood, Ohio at 9:15 am ET, then off to Jefferson City, Mo., for a 1 pm ET event. Next is Dubuque, Iowa at 4 pm ET, followed by Colorado Springs at 7:45 pm ET, Reno, Nev. at 11:30 pm ET, and finishing up in Elko, Nev., at 1:30 am ET. Then she flies up to Alaska to vote.
"Oh gosh, thank goodness no photographs." -- Joe Biden, recalling a long-ago spring break in Daytona Beach, Fla.
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