Video: McCain, Obama tussle for battlegrounds

  1. Transcript of: McCain, Obama tussle for battlegrounds

    But first, let's get the very latest polls and battleground landscape from NBC 's political director, Chuck Todd , who's our kind of walking, talking GPS system.

    Chuck , what's the latest this morning, just 48 hours to go?

    MR. CHUCK TODD: Good morning, Tom . Well, there's four states that both campaigns look at their tracking polls first. It starts with Virginia , where we have Obama with a narrow lead, 47 to McCain 's 44. In Mason-Dixon polling, this is the first time Obama 's been ahead in Virginia . In Florida , we have Obama , 47; McCain , 45. This has been a consistent lead in the Mason- Dixon poll for Obama . Small , but still a lead. In Colorado , the largest lead that Obama has of any of the states we have today: Obama , 49; McCain , 44. And in, and in Ohio , a bright spot for McCain : McCain at 47, Obama at 45. This is one of those states , of course, a Republican has never won without Ohio .

    And then our other troika of states here. Nevada : Obama at 47; McCain , 43. This race has tightened in that state. Both candidates in Nevada this final weekend. In Missouri , McCain , basically a dead heat , 47; Obama , 46. And finally, in North Carolina , where we've seen lots of talk about early voting , we have McCain at 49, Obama at 46. All of these polls, of course, Tom , could change depending on what is the percentage of turnout among young voters, among African-Americans , among older voters, etc.

    MR. BROKAW: All right, Chuck , stand back for a moment and let's take a look at the big map and see what's going on there for us as well.

    MR. TODD: Well, we'll show you what we have. Last week -- here is last week's map. And I want you to take a look -- keep an eye on these states up here in the Rocky -- northern Rocky Mountain region, as well as here, the agricultural Midwest , and down here in the South , where you can see our changes this morning, and you will see what's happened. These states of Minnesota , Wisconsin , Michigan solidifying for Obama . John McCain 's not even there. Two new toss-ups: Montana and North Dakota . And if we really wanted to get precise, we'd also put the Omaha congressional district in Nebraska . Nebraska , a state that splits its electoral votes by congressional district . And in that Omaha district, it is a dead heat , Tom .

    MR. BROKAW: And, Chuck , what about voter turnout , and especially the organization of the two campaigns, getting their people to the polls?

    MR. TODD: Well, it -- we're seeing a lot of the early voting , a lot of the long lines that's made folks question whether Georgia , South Carolina could end up being much closer than people thought because of this surge among voters, particularly African-Americans . And of course, we've watched everything that's been happening in Florida and North Carolina this weekend, Tom .

    MR. BROKAW: And why would John McCain be spending so much time in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire in the final weekend, Chuck ?

    MR. TODD: Well, it's a simple math problem that he's got. Here's our, our columns here. I'm going to put all of the current toss-up states in McCain 's column, and watch his number as it grows right up here. If you move all of these states over: Indiana , North Dakota , Missouri , Montana , North Carolina , Ohio , Florida and Nevada . You see the problem he's got. He's still at 252, 18 short. So what does that mean? If he pulls a Pennsylvania over, well, we see Obama goes down to 265, McCain gets his 273. Then you asked why New Hampshire ? That's the insurance policy . Nevada , a state that is -- that Obama right now has that narrow lead in, if that went to him, then McCain would need New Hampshire to get back over his 270. So it is the only number -- path he's got left. They know this, and that's why they had to figure out how to put Pennsylvania back in play. And we don't know if it really is. We know he's spending a lot of time there. And they had to figure out if New Hampshire , a state that's been incredibly kind to McCain 's political career in the past, to see if it can resurrect him one more time.

updated 11/2/2008 5:00:31 PM ET 2008-11-02T22:00:31

The meteorologists tell us that Wednesday morning in southwestern Pennsylvania's largest city will be crisp and sunny with a high of 64. That's about all we know. Being a weather forecast, it offers nothing about the political climate that will have been created by the election the day before.

The outlook is obvious but often overlooked: In a deeply divided nation, on the first dawn after we choose a new leader, every ray of victory's sunshine brings a corresponding thundercloud of defeat and bitterness.

"There are going to be a whole bunch of people who are distraught and who won't know what to do — no matter which side wins," says Chris Ivey, 36, a Pittsburgh filmmaker and ardent Barack Obama supporter. "People will try to go back to their routine, but there's going to be a lot of soul-searching to do."

On Wednesday, roughly half of Americans will awaken to find that the horse they backed disappointed them. That presumes we even have an immediate result; don't forget 2000, when America had to wait more than a month.

Jokes about moving to Canada
Yet there is, in the national conversation, surprisingly little talk about not accepting the winner if things don't go your way. Sure, some Democrats joke about moving to Canada, but gauging the severity of responses on the day after is a gauzy exercise in tarot-card reading that even television's loudest mouths rarely discuss.

While the spectrum of possible morning-after reactions runs from water-cooler grousing to partisan lawyering to violence, the depth of sentiment this year — more impassioned, many say, than even the last two elections — could make for a bumpy ride, particularly if the results are close.

This is, after all, the culmination of a political season that saw people weeping at rallies, schoolchildren taking sides and, in one case, a teenager getting shot after trying to remove a sign for John McCain from an Ohio lawn. As David Gergen, a White House adviser during the Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton administrations and now a CNN analyst said on air a couple of weeks ago: "We've got a country now that we're sneering at each other across cultural lines."

Will blacks, craving a victory that could offset the albatross of American racism, accept a negative outcome? Will Christian conservatives who got so energized about Sarah Palin reject the system and grow isolated if she's sent back northward? Will "real America" accept a victory by "Eastern elites," or vice versa? How will Hillary Rodham Clinton's supporters — and the Clintons themselves — emerge from it all?

And the question no one wants to articulate: Will anyone unhappy with the outcome resort to uglier methods of registering disapproval?

Ask around and you'll find partisans casting about to figure out how they'll cope with an undesired outcome.

Nation above politics
If Obama wins, says southwestern Virginian and McCain backer Steve Nagel, he'll put nation above politics. "I'm not going to do anything to undermine him," Nagel said last week at a Palin rally in Salem, Va., "I'll support the country." Nearby, though, Julie Thornton of Roanoke expressed trepidation at Democrats' reaction should McCain prevail. "I'm hoping they'll be civil," she said, "but I'm worried."

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On the same night a couple hundred miles south, at a rally for Joe Biden in Greensboro, N.C., Obama backer Maureen Mallon wasn't as sanguine. "If we don't get this one right, we ain't ever going to get it right," she said.

'Catastrophic problem for me '
"Honestly, we've got a plan," Mallon said. Her husband looked at her and nodded. "I've got family in Ireland," she said. "I don't feel a part of my country if McCain wins."

Passions are high, too, in the second-largest city in divided Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh is full of neighborhoods where geography doesn't necessarily dictate political stripe. It's not uncommon to see intersections like the one in the city's Morningside neighborhood, where McCain and Obama signs face off across the street from each other in a silent political High Noon. That means that come Nov. 5, someone's going to wake up agitated.

"I can't imagine the level of despair we would feel," said Kyra Straussman, 45, of Pittsburgh, an Obama supporter who works in real estate. "Let me put myself there for one minute: McCain is president. Catastrophic problem for me in every way you could think about it — culturally, spiritually, financially."

John Hinshaw, a historian at Lebanon Valley College in central Pennsylvania, sees a couple things that could dictate the aftermath of Election Day — one aggravating and one mitigating. He says that many people profess after the fact to have voted for the winner even if they didn't, thus leavening the strong reaction.

Perception of unfairness is problematic
But if voters perceive unfairness, which can happen in both thin margins and landslides, that can be a serious problem. "People can say, `It's not my president. It's your president,'" he says. "And that's the kind of stuff that can really weaken nation-states."

Lebanon Valley is one of three institutions doing a study this year on the emotional intensity of the election, comparing people's expectations to their reactions afterward. A similar study done for the 2000 election showed that people who expected to be inconsolable if Al Gore lost actually felt OK when it happened.

"We have tremendous powers to make it seem to ourselves like it turned out the way we thought it was going to," said psychologist Michael Kitchens, who is co-leading this year's study.

If, in the end, Americans are having trouble reconciling their feelings on the morning after, we might consider Return Day, a tradition in Biden's home state of Delaware.

On Thursday, candidates for office — winners and losers — will gather and ride down the streets of Georgetown, Del., together before thousands of people to show that divisiveness need not endure after the election. They even bury a symbolic hatchet.

"All the ill feelings and harsh remarks, all of that is buried in there, and everybody agrees to put aside their partisanship and work together," says Debbie Jones, one of the organizers. "It's something everybody could use."

Reality or wishful thinking, that's part of America's self-image as a land of strong competitors who, in the end, draw together to move forward.

"I respect the process at the end of the day. That's the best part about it," said Kevin Bierschenk, 31, a Republican and a telecommunications project manager in Herndon, Va. "Good losers," he said, "are just as good as a good winner."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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