Forty Forty Forty-Eight Hours to Go

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 31 2004 4:30 AM

Forty Forty Forty-Eight Hours to Go

With Tuesday less than 48 hours away, everyone runs lots of last-minute election coverage. The New York Timesleads with a lengthy state-by-state breakdown of the electoral battle map, while the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post(in its giant off-lead campaign box) offer snapshot analyses of the state of the race. According to the polls, it's still a statistical dead heat, but now that Sen. John Kerry has the lead in elector-rich Pennsylvania, the campaigns have focused with furious intensity on Florida and Ohio. If either candidate carries both of those states, he wins. But if Bush takes Florida and Kerry takes Ohio, as is more likely, then the conventional wisdom has the winner carrying two of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. (See Slate's Election Scorecard for more scenarios and analyses.) The WP leads with the "deadliest day for American forces in Iraq in almost six months" (the LAT says nine)in which nine Marines were killed and nine more wounded on Saturday.

The Osama Bin Laden video that surfaced Friday may not seriously affect the race. In a piece called "Voters, Their Minds Made Up, Say bin Laden Changes Nothing," the NYT interviews dozens of voters who say they're sticking to their guns. And despite a slight resurfacing of the terror issue, neither candidate appears to want the tape to play a central role in the final days of the campaign. (The Bush administration, incidentally, will not raise the terror alert level).

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The WP also fronts a piece that claims the election will "amount to a great national Rorschach test" where voters will choose their leader based on whose psychological profile they prefer. In troubled times, do they value Kerry's discerning and nuanced approach to complex problems or Bush's forceful and unwavering conviction? Or, as pundit David Gergen puts it, do people want "fact-based [or] intuition-based policies"? The LAT also points to Bush's hedgehog mentality (vs. Kerry's fox) as the dominant factor in the electorate's bitter polarization.

The WP predicts that the Democrats probably won't regain control of the Senate (they'd have to win all four of the closest races, plus score an upset) and notes that in the House, "few analysts see Republicans losing more than three seats net from their 24-seat majority or adding more than [three]."

Saturday was a bloody day in Iraq. Eight of the nine soldiers killed and all nine of those injured were caught in a car bomb blast southwest of Baghdad in the Anbar province, where Fallujah is located. Seven Iraqi civilians were killed and 17 injured when another car exploded outside of an al-Arabiya television station in what the WP leadcalls "the worst attack on a news organization in Iraq." And at least 14 more Iraqis were killed south of Baghdad when Iraqi security forces "opened fire on a busy street ... spray[ing] fire into three minibuses and randomly thr[owing] grenades."

The NYT interviewed 15 top American generals in Iraq, and apparently the brass is very worried about the quickly deteriorating situation. Insurgents have many more fighters "and far greater financial resources than previously estimated," and the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces appear to have been infiltrated by rebel spies. In addition, the reconstruction funds so crucial to stabilizing the economy—and thereby shrinking the pool of angry citizens willing to join the insurgency—are coming too slowly. Last and "perhaps most disturbing" is the continuing intimidation campaign (read: "assassinations, kidnappings, beheadings and car bombings") that has become the militants' main weapon. Incongruously, the piece also includes this piece of news: "For the first time, military officers disclosed that the United States could begin withdrawing its 138,000 troops from Iraq in July, if Iraqi security forces have established control and the threats plaguing Iraq now have lessened."

The WP runs a related article on the U.S. military's strategy to drive a wedge into what it now sees as a divided Iraqi insurgency comprised on one side by Saddam loyalists—former officers and intelligence agents from the Hussein government—and on the other by more radical (and foreign) Islamist elements such as those controlled by Abu Musab Zarqawi. The idea would be to legitimize the former group by coaxing it into the political arena, and to kill the latter.

Cursed Halloween? The WP runs a scary report that in several communities, schools have banned the holiday after receiving complaints that school parties and other costume-related activities were offending certain parents. Who? Wiccans, of course—they object to the ugly stereotype of the witch as a long-nosed, wart-ridden hag. As the article was written during the day, the reporter was unable to reach any vampire parents for comment.

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