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Candidates Sprint To Election In Tight Contest


It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm asking for your vote, and I'm asking you to vote early.

MITT ROMNEY: It matters. This race matters. You know how big this race is.

LYDEN: The candidates making their last swings through the swing states a week and a half before Election Day. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us as he does most Saturdays. Hello there, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Jacki.

LYDEN: So many of the latest polls indicate that Mitt Romney has a narrow lead in the popular vote. And it's really quite a turnaround from just over a month ago. That first debate performance really seems to be having legs.

FALLOWS: Yes. I'm sure when this election is over, both sides will look back on that - probably most of all President Obama, if he ends up losing. But I think there's an even more interesting look back to the beginning of this year, because it struck me that then both sides lack a little bit of enthusiasm for the race. Many of President Obama's former supporters felt disappointed one way or another and the Republican primary seemed to be a long sequence of anybody-but-Mitt-Romney tryouts. But it seems to me that both sides now see that there are long-term consequences to this election, even beyond our discussion every year about how this is, you know, the most important election ever.

One is most people think the economy is likely to be better in these next four years than it's been in the past four years. So whoever is in office will be able to claim some validation for his theories. A second one is the health care law passed under President Obama will either be enacted or partially blocked or appealed, depending on the outcome, which will have effects. And finally, there are four Supreme Court justices who are in their 70s. And although that's been a very sort of understated issue in the campaign, I think it's another way in which this election will have some long-term effects.

LYDEN: Yeah, it hasn't come up in any of the debates.

FALLOWS: This is strange. And I don't understand the logic on either side for avoiding this issue, but they must have some reason for not playing it up.

LYDEN: You know, since the election's so close, we're really looking at the grind of the get-out-the-vote aspect of the campaign, and we're going to cover that in more detail tomorrow night on the program. But how do you see that kind of drill down playing out over the next few days?

FALLOWS: There's an aspect of this effort, which is familiar, which is the very intense push in Ohio and Colorado and Florida and these other perceived swing states to make sure that each side's base is turned out. I think something that's different this time for most elections is there's also a motive for voters in the so-called safe states - whether it's a safe Republican state like Texas or a safe Democratic state like California or New York - also to turn out and cast their votes, because there are signs that this election could be heading towards something like the 2000 election where there was a split between the popular vote and the Electoral College results.

Twelve years ago, of course, Al Gore won the popular vote, George Bush became president on the basis of the Electoral College. It looks as if right now, the reverse could occur with Mitt Romney being ahead popularly and Barack Obama being ahead in the Electoral College. There is an important effect that either legitimizes or delegitimizes a president based on the popular support he receives. So that's a motive for people all around the country to be out there and cast their ballot.

LYDEN: So then you must really be surprised that the election is this close.

FALLOWS: The only surprise would be that time in late summer when it looked as if Barack Obama had a big and even insuperable lead. And we'll wonder for years whether if President Obama had come on really strong in that first debate whether he would have put the race away, as Bill Clinton did against Bob Dole in 1996 and Ronald Reagan against Walter Mondale, but on the fundamentals. I think most people on both sides had predicted for quite a while this would end up being a very close race.

LYDEN: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallow.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks very much.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.