The papers all lead with relatively neutral stories pegged to the last day before the election. USA Today stakes the most decisive claim, leading with its own Gallup/CNN poll in a story headlined, "SWING STATES LEAN TO KERRY." The Wall Street Journal's world-side newsbox calls it a "photo finish" but says that the "Electoral College chessboard remains more complicated for Kerry than for the president." The New York Times goes with a catch-all that touts record spending on television ads—some $60 million in the last week—saying that neither candidate can afford to miss a single a swing-state single commercial break. The Washington Post leads the unprecedented, $200 million GOTV effort being mounted by both sides; of course, its studiously even-handed approach doesn't give much insight into who might be winning that battle. The Los Angeles Times leads with a by-the-book trail piece, as both candidates lavish attention on Florida and Ohio.
BYO salt regarding the USAT headline: Plenty of other polls offer minutely different, and often contradictory, state-by-state results, although it does seem that, on balance, Kerry is surging a little in battleground polls. Nationally, Gallup has the race tied at 49%, a five-point net jump for Kerry in a week. But some conservatives are already crying foul about Gallup's application of the much-discussed "Incumbent Rule" by allocating 9 of 10 undecided voters to Kerry, a ratio the paper attributes to "analyses of previous presidential races involving an incumbent." Without allocating those voters (which CNN does not do), Bush leads 49% to 47% among likely voters and Kerry leads 48% to 46% among registered voters.
Speaking of today's crop of final polls: NYT/CBS poll is more bullish on Bush, showing him ahead 49% to 46%, with job approval and right track/wrong track up slightly. WSJ/NBC, however, has the race pretty much tied, at 48% to 47%, advantage Bush (subscription required). Interestingly, the poll, which ran Friday to Sunday, indicates that Osama Bin Laden's campaign ad has had little effect. And even as the Journal agrees that some trends are moving ever-so-slightly in Kerry's favor, it quotes both sides playing the confidence card. "I like our position a heck of a lot more than theirs heading into Election Day," said Bush strategist Matthew Dowd.
Given how much attention GOTV has received lately, the Post's lead does an admirable job conveying actual data but reads a little too he-said-she-said (i.e., Dems made 399,466 calls in Ohio on Saturday, but Bush officials say they also make about 400,000 calls a day in Ohio). Better is the WSJ's Page One story, which takes the same raw materials and adds an anecdotal element—following the political directors of both ACT and the RNC (sub. req.). For one thing, this TPer sympathizes with the RNC vote mobilization czar's feelings about E-Day. "What can I do," she asks, "except watch returns and throw up?"
Speaking of polls and GOTV: In its more focused piece on the massive, dueling GOTV efforts in Ohio, the NYT also notes that, in a Columbus Dispatch poll yesterday, out of 2,880 likely Ohio voters, Kerry led Bush by eight. Not percent—eight people.
And just as the race in Florida seems to be getting close again, the papers revisit old wounds there—and find them festering. The Post earns points for colorful reporting, such as voters ordering pizza deliveries while waiting on hours-long early voting lines. USAT notes that Gallup says some 30% of Floridians have already voted, with Kerry leading among them 51% to 43%.
In addition to the LAT's lead, both the Post and USAT run ho-hum trail pieces that use the word "whirlwind" to describe the elaborate and frenzied travels of the candidates. Somehow, improbably, the NYT manages to avoid it in its two thoroughly programmed "behind-the-scenes" portraits of the candidates in the closing days of the election, with Bush really "enjoying himself" and Kerry "loosening up" enough to watch the whole Indiana Jones trilogy on his campaign plane.
USAT fronts Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi warning that he's prepared to launch the long-awaited assault on Fallujah if negotiations do not bear fruit soon. "The window for such peaceful settlement is closing," he said. Meanwhile, the papers report that in insurgents fired a rocket into a hotel in Tikrit last night, killing 15 Iraqis. Early reports say that the deputy governor of Baghdad was killed in a drive-by shooting this morning.
In Afghanistan, militants released a video of three kidnapped U.N. workers and threatened to kill them in 72 hours unless U.N. and British troops leave the country and the U.S. frees its Muslim prisoners.
Kerry may have made an ill-advised boast about his support among foreign leaders, but the WSJ says inside that the leaders of several countries—such as Japan, Russia, Iran, China, India and Italy—are quietly hoping for a Bush victory, generally for economic reasons (sub. req.) Some speculate that he may even have the support of Jacques Chirac: Said one analyst, "Four more years of Bush, and I suspect there will be a lot more unity in Europe."
Attn. prognostication dept.: Dems are happy the Redskins lost yesterday, but does it bode well for anyone that they might have won were it not for a controversial call that reversed a spectacular touchdown? And the WP has tomorrow's all-important swing state weather report (second item). It's looking nice everywhere, with the notable exception of Democratic stronghold Cleveland, Ohio, which has a 60 percent chance of rain.