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Candidates' Last Hurrah: What's The Strategy?


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

In this final weekend before Election Day, President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney are both looking for an edge as they make their final arguments to voters in a handful of battleground states.

For more, Mara Liasson, NPR's national political correspondent joins us. Mara, welcome.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Nice to be here.

MARTIN: OK. So the finish line, it's hard to believe, is finally in sight. The candidates are heading to the places where they think the race will be decided. Let's start with President Obama. Today, he's traveling to New Hampshire, Florida, Colorado and the all-important state of Ohio. He won Ohio in 2008. Is he poised to do the same thing again?

LIASSON: Well, he might be. He's had a very small but persistent lead in Ohio. That clearly is his firewall. He needs to win that big state in the Midwest along with Wisconsin. That's his path to 270 votes. And the interesting thing is Ohio is a pretty good example of the parallel universe we see this year, where in the national polls he's tied with Romney. But in the battleground states, he's had a small edge. Why?

When you look at the difference between the polls in Ohio, he's not doing as badly with white voters as he is in the national polls, or independent voters. He's not trailing Romney by as much on the question of who is better on the economy. I think it's because the Obama campaign never left Ohio after they won in 2008. They stayed there. They've had a saturation ad campaign. They've had the auto bailout working in their favor, and they've really pummeled Romney on opposing it. One in eight jobs in Ohio is tied to the auto industry.

MARTIN: OK, so let's look at Mitt Romney's itinerary today and what it tells us. He's also traveling to Ohio, as well as Virginia, Iowa and Pennsylvania which isn't really considered a battleground state. Right? What's the strategy there?

LIASSON: Well, it is turning into a battleground state right now at the end of this campaign. If Romney loses Ohio, he has to win another big state, along with Florida and Virginia. He could win Pennsylvania or Wisconsin and something else. And Pennsylvania is a must-win state for the president. So Romney is trying to expand the map.

The president is still ahead there but the gap has been closing, and the Obama campaign has been taking out what we might call the Bill Clinton insurance policy. And they're sending Bill Clinton, who's very popular in Pennsylvania. And, of course, his wife, Hillary Clinton, won Pennsylvania in the Democratic primary in 2008. And he's going to be campaigning there for President Obama.

MARTIN: OK, Mara, let's talk about early voting because there has been a lot of it. Nearly 26 million people in 34 states and the District of Columbia have already voted. They've already cast ballots. What does this mean and what could it mean for the outcome of the election, do you think?

LIASSON: Well, there's no doubt the Democrats are counting on early voting to win. Their voters are harder to turn out. They're lower income, less education, it's harder for them to take the day off, or couple of hours off and to stand in line on Tuesday. And in some states they seem to have the edge in early voting. But others are just too hard to tell because they don't record the party ID of the voters.

But there's no doubt that the president plans to win before Election Day. That's what he did last year. He lost the vote that was cast on Election Day but he won in the early voting states. And now, there are a tremendous numbers of states that allow voting early, and we'll see if it really makes a difference in the end. Republicans absolutely insist they've caught up with the Democrats on early voting.

MARTIN: Mara, what about these disruptions we've seen caused by Superstorm Sandy? New Jersey is now allowing displaced voters to vote by e-mail. Some voters in New York could be casting their ballots in tents, I understand. I mean, it sounds like that can get complicated.

LIASSON: It could get complicated but New York and New Jersey, neither of them are battleground states. They're reliably blue states. The president will win those states. The question is if we get an unusual outcome, which would be a popular vote/Electoral College split. And you could argue if the vote was taken today, Mitt Romney would win the popular vote and Barack Obama would win the Electoral College, it will come because voters - the turnouts was depressed in blue states, like New York and New Jersey.

Whereas tremendous numbers of voters went to the polls in Texas and Alabama and Mississippi, and ran up Romney's popular vote total. So that could be one of the effects. But it's unlikely that it's going to affect the outcome in the Electoral College.

MARTIN: Only a couple of seconds left. Mara, we've talked to you a lot over this campaign. With only a couple of days left, any final thoughts or theories?

LIASSON: Well, Election Day is going to settle a lot of questions. It's going to answer the question whether Romney's enthusiasm edge among Republicans, and what looks for a while like momentum, can that overcome the edge that the president has developed in the battleground states and what looks, at least from the outside, to be a better ground game. Ground game's only really matter when the race is very, very close. But we're going to find that all out on Tuesday.

MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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