How will the last days of the campaign season unfold?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 1 2008 6:45 AM

Full-Court Press

Going into the final weekend before the election, the Los Angeles Times leads with the presidential candidates (and their surrogates) making their last dashes across battleground states. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., targeting areas that typically favor Republicans, including Republican Sen. John McCain's home state of Arizona, a notion the LAT shares.

The New York Times goes lower with campaign news and instead leads with worries that faltering consumer spending may give rise to deflation. The Washington Post leads with a look at how an expanded interpretation of the Constitution's "speech or debate" clause is hampering congressional corruption investigations.

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The LAT focuses on the efforts of Sens. Obama and McCain to capture heartland swing states that voted for President Bush in 2004, including Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa. The paper depicts a McCain camp scrambling for a comeback while Obama supporters are trying to ward off complacency and avoid any major gaffes between now and the election. Indeed, the NYT writes that many Obama backers, especially those from traditionally "blue" states, are having a hard time believing recent polls that show their candidate ahead. After crushing losses in 2000 and 2004, many Democrats say they're wary of getting their hopes up again, no matter how good the polls look.

The WP, meanwhile fronts dueling campaign pieces: one on McCain volunteers trying to win Pennsylvania and one on Obama supporters trying to make inroads in heavily conservative southern Virginia. The point of both pieces is the same: Supporters in each camp are trying to flip an area that historically favors the other party. The big difference is that while Obama is projected to carry Virginia (if not its southern counties), McCain continues to poll behind in Pennsylvania. This would mean that Obama's supporters are just priming the ground for future races, whereas McCain backers are looking to turn the tide in a must-win state that seems to be slipping away from them. The paper portrays these two efforts in very different ways. The McCain piece is much shorter and more succinct, and it focuses on the McCain volunteers making their last stand in Pennsylvania. The Obama piece is long on colorful descriptions and focuses more on southern Virginia voters and their reasons for voting for one candidate or the other—or not voting at all.

Earlier this year, economists were worried about spiraling inflation, but the collapse of oil prices, along with shrinking credit and plummeting home values, now have experts warning against deflation instead. The NYT says deflation is especially hard for the government to combat, since many of the tools the government uses to fight inflation, like adjusting interest rates, become less effective in a deflationary cycle. Additionally, deflation lowers demand and thus lowers prices, which means lower wages and thus lower demand, creating a self-perpetuating loop that can take years to reverse. The LAT's analysis of the situation is a little less dire, saying that most economists are unconvinced that deflation is imminent. Yet the piece still offers a little hypothetical advice to readers who want to prepare for the worst: Avoid taking on new debt and invest in fixed high-yield bonds over stocks.

The WP says the "speech or debate" clause was created to protect Congress from interference from frivolous lawsuits, but its increasingly broad interpretation is making it difficult for the Justice Department to pursue corruption charges against several members of Congress. A court decision regarding an investigation targeting Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., expanded the scope of protection under the clause, making many kinds of communications off limits for prosecutors. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, tried to use the clause to have evidence against him thrown out but has so far been unsuccessful. Stevens was found guilty of lying about accepting favors last week but has vowed to fight on, both in the courtroom and the campaign trail. The NYT says leading Republicans have denounced Stevens and many believe he would be expelled from the Senate even if he were re-elected.

The WP and the WSJ each front news on the latest attempts to save troubled mortgages and keep people in their homes. The WSJ looks at a plan by JPMorgan Chase & Co. to modify loan terms to prevent foreclosures. The WP argues, however, that the private sector is moving too slowly and instead all eyes are on a similar program which would rework mortgages through the IndyMac Federal Bank, which the government recently took over. The WSJ warns, however, that the FDIC's program is already running into some difficulties.

The NYT off-leads with a harrowing bit of narrative journalism about Army medics at a forward post in Afghanistan trying to save the life of an Afghan man during a mortar attack.

Working solely from anecdotal evidence, the NYT reports that caterers are anticipating fewer lavish holiday parties this year. The reason for the scaled-back festivities is largely financial, as consumer confidence continues to sag under the weight of Wall Street worries.  But the paper writes that some revelers are cutting back not out of cost concerns, but so as not to appear gauche during hard times. Or, at least, that's what some of the story's sources are claiming.

The WP and LAT both front the death of Studs Terkel, the radio host best known for interviewing everyday people.

The WSJ reports that Japan has discovered slacking off, as a growing number of young Japanese professionals are declining promotions and raises in order to keep dull jobs with little responsibility.

A Pulitzer-winning food critic recently raved about the delights of whale meat—much to the horror and disgust of his brother, a prominent marine biologist. The disagreement unfolded rather publicly, as the two men talked it out online. The LAT has the rundown of this deeply amusing fraternal spat, complete with vivid descriptions of some pretty far-out menu items.

Jesse Stanchak is a writer living in Washington, D.C.