Tim Russert is NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and host of Meet the Press.  He regularly offers MSNBC.com’s readers his insight and analysis into questions about politics past, present and future.

MSNBC:  Tim, less than four days remain.  Last week you said Election Day will be all about Ohio, Ohio, Ohio.  But this campaign is so fluid.  Does it still look that way?

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Russert:  I think Ohio’s essential.

I saw the other day someone suggested we call it “FLOHPA” – Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

You could say, "Iraq, Iraq, Iraq."  There are so many cross-currents in this election.

Now it appears Michigan may be a battleground state.  Senator John Kerry is being forced to go back there this weekend and Vice Presidnet Dick Cheney is flying all the way to Hawaii, trying to steal those four electoral votes.  John Kerry’s dispatching his daughter.  Everything’s up for grabs.

I still am convinced that if you win two of three – Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania – you have a very good chance of being the next president of the United States.

Obviously, if President George W. Bush lost all three of those, he could offset it by winning Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Hawaii.

But it is wild.

MSNBC:  So, the bellweather state, for you, is not that simple?

Russert:  I think, if John Kerry loses Ohio, it’s very, very hard for him to be elected president.

MSNBC:  People crunching the numbers seem to be saying JohnKerry has very few backdoor options, while George Bush has a lot.

Russert:  Yes, but, you know, generally these things trend – If someone wins Ohio, they usually win Michigan and if they win Michigan, they usually win Wisconsin.  Iowa seems to be the best state George Bush can pick off from where Al Gore won in 2000.

MSNBC:  Do you think we’re going to know election night who the next president is?

Russert:  With Hawaii being contested the way it is, my guess is at least 2 to 3 in the morning – probably later than that.  Remember, there are thousands of lawyers ready to be dispatched to Ohio, Florida and New Mexico.  It could be difficult.

But, then again, maybe not if we know who wins the Redskins-Packers game on Sunday.  For the last 64-years, if the Redskins win their final home game before the election, the incumbent party stays in power.  If the Packers win, it’s good for John Kerry - though it probably would have helped it he knew to pronounce it “Lambeau” field and not “Lambert” field.

So, maybe I won’t even have to show up Tuesday night.

MSNBC:  Four years ago we talked about a virtually equally division among voters in America.  Now it appears that it’s more than just a vision among voters, but a polarization.

Russert:  Which could be dangerous.

The next president of the United States, whether its John Kerry or George Bush, is going to have to deal with the situation in Iraq, the situation in Iran, the situation in North Korea, the problems with Social Security and Medicare as the number of eligibles double with the baby-boomer generation retiring.

These are very big, complicated, difficult problems and the only way to get through them is by getting a consensus, common-ground compromise.

It’s going to be very difficult for either of these men to pull the country together -- to pull the congress together to get behind the solution for these difficult situations.


MSNBC: Have the international events of the week shifted the focus away from domestic issues?

Russert:  Sure.  I mean, all this week it’s been munitions in Iraq.  The headlines have been driving this campaign.  They’re trying every nuance to find and motivate those undecided voters.

No one knows how this election is going to turn out.  I’ve talked to both campaigns -- they both think that their guy is going to win.  But if anyone can predict how many of the new registrants are going to vote and how they’re going to vote, they’re certainly better than anyone else I’ve talked to.

MSNBC:  Who will we see Sunday on Meet the Press?

Russert:  We have the best surrogates from each campaign.  The Bush campaign is putting out Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York to make their case.  The Democrats – John Kerry – have opted for another Kerrey, Bob Kerrey, former Senator, governor and September 11th commission member.  Then we’re going to have Peter Hart, Bill McInturff and Charlie Cook crunch the numbers and go through the battleground states one by one.

So, on Meet the Press, with 48-hours to go, we’ll have a pretty good idea of where we think this race is going.  But, you know what?  We don’t know!


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