TOPICS > Politics

Economy, Demographic Changes Impact Election Outcome

November 4, 2008 at 6:20 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: All right, now some of the details of what we know and don’t know at this early hour. And to Gwen Ifill.

GWEN IFILL: Thanks, Jim.

For that, I’m joined by Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, and Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, National Journal’s political daily.

So what do we know at this early hour tonight, both of you, about who’s voting and what they care about?


STUART ROTHENBERG, Rothenberg Political Report: Well, Gwen, right now, we know that, again, the economy is the big issue. We’ve been talking about this for a number of weeks now. And it appears that something like 60 percent of those who are polled in exits say that the economy is the big issue.

I think the economy has developed as an issue, particularly over the last month with the financial crisis, and people are concerned about unemployment. It’s got to be good news for Barack Obama.

GWEN IFILL: And, Amy, who are these people? We’re talking about the people who’ve been polled as they leave their exit — their polling places today.

AMY WALTER, Editor-in-Chief, The Hotline: That’s right. Well, it’s interesting. At least at this point, it doesn’t look like this surge in new voters that had been expected and talked about for much of this campaign.

What it’s telling us now is that about 1 in 10 voters say that they are voting for the first time. In 2004, it was basically that same number; 11 percent said they had never voted before.

What we do know about these new voters, though, is they’re overwhelmingly young — not surprisingly — they’re overwhelmingly non-white — again, not a surprise, knowing that the Obama campaign’s focus on getting new, young voters into the process.

Virginia, Indiana watched closely

GWEN IFILL: Let's run quickly through a couple of the first states we'll be watching tonight.

At 7 o'clock, the first polls close, and we expect to be hearing first from right across -- in fact, we're sitting in Virginia, Stu. Why is Virginia so important? And what are we watching for?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, this was a state that George Bush got 53 percent four years ago. It has received a lot of attention as one of those Republican states that, in fact, Senator Obama might carry.

There's been a change in the state in the demographics, particularly in northern Virginia, which once was a Republican area, but now has increasingly supported Democrats and statewide candidates and even local races.

And the sense is that there's a potential breakthrough for Senator Obama very early in the evening in a state that, if he wins, if he takes one of those Bush states, then Senator McCain is going to have to win a Democratic state to offset that loss.

GWEN IFILL: Amy, we saw that Senator Obama went to Indiana today. Both candidates broke these traditional rules about campaigning on Election Day. And he said I wouldn't have come to Indiana if I didn't think I could win Indiana. How does he do that?

AMY WALTER: He does that a couple of ways, one, by running up the score in Indianapolis. So we're going to be looking early on for just how many folks turned out to vote in Marion County, which is where Indianapolis is, Lake County, which is Gary, right across...

GWEN IFILL: Which has a later closing time, right?

AMY WALTER: Which has a later -- right, well, here we get into the Central and Eastern time zone break in Indiana.

GWEN IFILL: I remember Indiana primary night staying up late, waiting on Lake County, right?

AMY WALTER: That's right. That's right. And remember how close Indiana was in the primaries. So, again, Barack Obama has always conceded that because -- or has held that, because they share that media market with Indiana, that he has always had something of a base there.

GWEN IFILL: But it's a pretty red state.

AMY WALTER: It's a very red state.

Eyes on the south

GWEN IFILL: Another big red state, Stu, is Georgia.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Georgia, 58 percent for George Bush four years ago. Initially, I think most people discounted that this would be a competitive state, but we've seen suggestions, at least in polling, that there's going to be a very significant African-American vote.

Polls have shown this race surprisingly close, this state, 4, 5, 6 points. So the black vote in and around Atlanta is crucial, as well as some of the more rural African-American vote.

This is a state to watch. There is also a very competitive Senate race that is drawing a lot of attention here.

GWEN IFILL: Is that the same kind of formula that both candidates are facing in North Carolina, where there is -- apparently there is a dead heat and a Senate race, which could drive turnout?

AMY WALTER: That's right, and a governor's race.

GWEN IFILL: And a governor's race.

Black voter turnout significant

AMY WALTER: So there's a whole lot riding on what the black turnout is going to look like. And we know something about the turnout at least early on, which suggests -- Stu is right, that 35 percent of the electorate in Georgia who's already voted, African-American. In North Carolina, I think that number was close to 27 percent.

Now, the total number of African-Americans as the population, 21 percent, so they're already overperforming in terms of the total population there.

I think we're going to be spending a lot of time looking at those areas in the very top tier of North Carolina that bump up against the border of Virginia, some heavily African-American areas where Kerry has done well, like to look into some of those communities where there are university towns, right, around Raleigh-Durham, Wake Forest, et cetera.

So I think that might start to give us early clues.

GWEN IFILL: And also closing at 7:30, one of the big kahunas, Ohio, Stu.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Ohio, Ohio, Ohio, I remember four years ago we were looking at this. And I was looking at the map, the county map. And we saw these big Democratic numbers coming in, Franklin County, Columbus, Cuyahoga, Cleveland, as well as good Democratic numbers in Montgomery and Stark -- that's Dayton and Canton -- and thinking, "Wow, this Democratic performance is up significantly. The Democratic margin is up."

And then switching over just my attention a few centimeters to the western half of the rural part of Ohio, where the Republican numbers went through the roof. So we're looking at Cuyahoga, and Franklin, and Canton, and Dayton, but we're also looking at Republican areas.

GWEN IFILL: OK, well, we'll be back to be talking about the rest of the things we'll be watching tonight.

Back to you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Yes, thank you, Gwen.