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First thoughts: One day, eight points

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Obama has a clear lead: With just a day left until Election Day, Obama holds an eight-point lead over McCain among likely voters, 51%-43%, according to the final national NBC/WSJ poll before the election. That's down slightly from Obama's 53%-to-42% advantage from almost two weeks ago. Still, to put his current lead into perspective, the last NBC/WSJ survey before the 2004 presidential election showed Bush with a slim one-point edge over Kerry, 48%-47%. Bush went on to win that election, 51%-48%.

Video: NBC's Lester Holt speaks with NBC's Chuck Todd, who gives the most up-to-date projected electoral map.

Looking inside the crosstabs, Obama's advantage is largely based on his overwhelming success with African Americans (winning them 90%-3%), Latinos (68%-27%), and 18 to 34 year olds (59%-38%). It's about as solid of a three-legged support stool as any candidate could ask for. Obama also wins independents (48%-38%), blue-collar voters (51%-44%), suburban voters (49%-44%), and Catholics (49%-46%). McCain, meanwhile, has the advantage among evangelicals (78%-19%), those 65 and older (53%-40%), white men (54%-42%), and white women (48%-47%).

Video: NBC's First Read team discusses undecided voters, how much turnout matters and how big a Democratic wave could be.

One more thing: 30% say they've already voted, and those voters break by an identical 51%-43% margin. One thing that might keep the McCain folks somewhat hopeful about our numbers: We have Democrats with a +10 advantage on party ID; McCain's team believes the electorate won't produce that margin tomorrow.

*** Liking McCain but loving Obama: The poll also shows that McCain and Obama are pretty well liked by voters. McCain has a 47%-39% fav/unfav rating, while Obama's is larger at 56%-35%. But what's striking is the intensity gap -- almost twice as many respondents (44%) rate Obama "very positive" than they do for McCain (24%). In short, McCain's supporters like him, but Obama's LOVE him. Think about that 44% number for a minute: Obama's overall ballot number is 51%, meaning that 86% of Obama's supporters have a VERY positive view of him. Not since Reagan in 1980 has a base of supporters loved its nominee so much. Also, for the second-straight NBC/WSJ poll, Palin has a net-negative fav/unfav (39%-48%), while Biden has a net-positive one (50%-30%). In fact, if you add up Obama's and Biden's favorable scores, you get 106; for McCain-Palin, it's 86.
***CLARIFICATION*** For the number crunchers out there, here's the math on that whopping 86% "love" number..  Assuming that the 44% of respondents who say that they have a "very positive" impression of Obama are also in the 51% of respondents who support the Democratic nominee, that means that 44/51 (86%) of Obama's supporters LOVE their guy.  That percentage is substantially lower for McCain: a 24% "very positive" rating, factored into 43% overall support, equals a 56% "love" factor for the Republican contender.

*** The Comfort factor: In addition to finding Obama likeable, voters are becoming more and more comfortable with him and the idea of him becoming president. Over the course of this general election, NBC/WSJ co-pollsters Peter Hart (D) and Neil Newhouse (R) have identified one key question in the poll for Obama: Do you identify with his background and values? And Obama has always trailed McCain on this score. Until now. In our new poll, an identical 57% say they identify with the candidates' background and values. What's more, 58% say they're "optimistic and confident" or "satisfied and hopeful" that Obama would do a good job if he becomes president; 46% say that of McCain. And 42% say they have either a great deal of confidence or quite a bit of confidence that Obama will be able to get the nation's economy back on track. That's compared with just 27% who say that about McCain.

*** Other numbers: Also in the poll, Democrats hold a 12-point advantage over Republicans in the generic congressional ballot (48%-36%); just 11% believe the country is headed in the right direction; and only 26% approve of Bush's job as president.

Video: One member of the first family will hit the trail on the final day of the campaign, but it won't be President Bush. While first lady Laura Bush is set to stump for votes in Kentucky, the president has been notably absent from the trail. NBC's David Gregory reports.

Says Newhouse, "Of those voters who disapprove of the job that Bush is doing, McCain loses them to Obama by a whopping 74%-20% margin." McCain needs another 5-10 points among Bush disapprovers to cut Obama's lead. The poll was conducted of 1,011 likely voters from November 1-2, and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.1%

*** When McCain stopped being McCain: The New York Times' Maureen Dowd raised an interesting discussion point yesterday that could become catchy with the CW: While McCain has tried to cast doubts about Obama, "it is McCain who is the enigma, even though he entered the race with one of the best brands in American politics." One of the more popular phrases many a columnist will write this week -- if McCain loses -- will be something like: "McCain stopped being McCain." There will be a lot of Wednesday-morning quarterbacking that he moved to far to the right to get the nomination, and that he didn't distance himself more from Bush. When you look at the current NBC/WSJ poll and some of the voting groups McCain is losing, it's in the ideological middle of the country. The whole idea of a McCain nomination was that he was supposed to be the guy who could compete best in the middle. Instead, he's spent a lot of time courting the right. 

*** Are you ready for some … more McCain and Obama? In addition to all the campaigning, interviews with the two presidential candidates will air tonight at halftime of Monday Night Football. Also, an "Ask Obama" special appears on MTV this morning. Just askin' ourselves, but have we gotten to the point where we've experienced too much of these candidates? No more SNL, please; no more Ellen; no more Monday Night Football. (In fact, is there a venue where they haven't appeared?) Americans are probably looking forward to having their escapism back.

*** On the trail: McCain holds a whopping seven events today: He starts off with a rally in Tampa, FL, then goes to Blountville, TN (which is near Bristol, VA), then to Pittsburgh, then Indianapolis, then Roswell, NM, then Henderson, NV, and he concludes the day with a 2:00 am ET rally in Prescott, AZ. Meanwhile, Obama makes three stops, holding rallies in Jacksonville, FL, then Charlotte, NC, and finally Manassas, VA at 9:00 pm ET. Biden campaigns in Lee's Summit, MO, Zanesville, OH, and Copley, OH before ending his evening with a rally in Philadelphia. And Palin is in Lakewood, OH, Jefferson City, MO, Dubuque, IA, Colorado Springs, CO, Reno, NV, and Elko, NV before flying home to Alaska.

Countdown to Election Day 2008: 1 day
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 66 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 78 days

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