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Starting Gate: Calm Before The Storm?

In 2000, revelations that then-Governor George W. Bush has been arrested for driving while under the influence helped rock the final weekend of that presidential campaign. In 2004, it was a last-minute video tape from Osama bin Laden that helped inject late drama into the race. In 2008, about all we had to chew on over the last weekend was Barack Obama's lead in the polls and John McCain's appearance on "Saturday Night Live."

To say this campaign is winding down to an anticlimactic finish, however, is to ignore the history of presidential elections over the past two decades. With a large turnout election brewing, millions of votes already cast, and still a full day before the polls open, this is just the calm before the storm – regardless of what the final outcome may be.

Frantic last-minute campaigning has led to a mind-boggling itinerary for the candidates in the race and there is some evidence that the race is tightening oh-so-slightly, if not on the national level, then in the battlegrounds. It looks for all intents and purposes to be a field tilted heavily towards the Democrats. But it ain't over yet.

Encouraging signs for McCain and Republicans remain viable. Obama, for all his advantages, hovers right around or below 50 percent in many of the polls in key states, even those which he leads. The McCain campaign hopes that their opponent has reached his high-water mark in that regard and that they will pick up the vast majority of undecided voters, leaving their path to 270 Electoral Votes alive.

They have some reason for the optimism. No Democrat has won the White House with 50 percent or more of the vote nationally since Jimmy Carter narrowly did so in 1976. Bill Clinton failed to win a majority of the vote in either of his elections and while John Kerry received more votes than any Democratic candidate ever, he fell short of the White House in Ohio.

Anyone paying attention to the last two presidential elections understands all-too well that the path to the presidency is through the Electoral College, not the popular vote. The battlegrounds of this race remain almost exclusively in Republican territory but it is, indeed, Republican territory and it won't be given up easily. Early voting and polls indicate Democrats are poised to make some tremendous gains but it they won't come easy.

Campaigns are full of surprises and unexpected results. No campaign understands that better than Obama's. Their loss in New Hampshire during the primaries, despite a ten-point lead in the polls, should be more than enough to serve as a reminder of what can happen on Election Day. Get ready, because one way or the other, tomorrow is going to be one heck of a ride.

Around The Track

  • McCain will make stops in Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona. Obama stumps in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. Sarah Palin will be in Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Colorado and Nevada while Joe Biden visits Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
  • McCain has a tradition of going to the movies on Election Day, but the New York Times reports that this time, he'll continue campaigning in two critical Western states, New Mexico and Colorado.
  • Obama maintains a 13-point lead in the latest CBS News poll, leading McCain 54 percent to 41 percent.
  • Obama stumped in Ohio with Bruce Springsteen yesterday in the rain, reports CBS News' Maria Gavrilovic. "I don't' know about you, but I want my country back, I want my dream back, I want my America back!," Springsteen said. "Now is the time to stand with Barack Obama and Joe Biden, roll up our sleeves, and come."
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