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Acclaimed political analyst weighs in on presidential election

Political analyst Charlie Cook predicted a “photo finish” in this year’s presidential election during his visit to Elon Monday in which he also weighed in on challenges for Democrat Barack Obama and the choice of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Cook, publisher of The Cook Political Report and a political analyst for NBC, offered his analysis of the 2008 presidential election during a question-and-answer session with reporters Monday and was scheduled to share his views during an address at 7:30 p.m. in Whitley Auditorium that is free and open to the public. Cook's analyses of presidential and congressional elections have been featured on NBC, CBS, CNN and the National Journal.

Speaking with reporters, Cook said the resurgence of Republican presidential nominee John McCain and the popularity of Democratic nominee Barack Obama couldn’t have been predicted a year ago. “To me, it’s been a year in which you’ve taken the rule book and tossed it out,” Cook said. “Very, very strange things are happening.”

With low approval ratings for President Bush, a sagging economy and calls for change, Obama should be the clear front runner, Cook said. “Every factor that you can point to suggests that Obama ought to be putting this thing away, but he hasn’t been able to put this thing away. There is some resistance to him.” The resistance, Cook added, comes from white voters over 50.

“Some people chalk it up purely to race. I think it’s more complicated than that,” he said. “For these voters, they’ve never met anybody like Barack Obama. They’re having trouble identifying with him.”

Cook also weighed in on the pick of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice presidential running mate. He called the choice too risky and compared it to taking an actor from regional theatre and “dropping them on Broadway.” Yet the choice of Palin gave the McCain campaign new energy and seems to have satisfied conservatives, he said.

“It has put some starch in their shorts…that was something McCain desperately needed,” Cook said. He added that GOP leaders remain nervous because so few of them know much about Palin. “You don’t become a maverick as long as John McCain has been without it costing you among the party faithful,” said Cook. “Sarah Palin has fixed that problem for him.”

North Carolina remains a toss up in the presidential race, according to Cook. He said Obama’s popularity could trickle down to Democratic candidates for N.C. governor and U.S. Senate, with more black voters and young voters expected to turn out. “I don’t see any signs that the young people’s attention span has waned very much. We’re looking at a very, very strong Democratic turnout.”
That could help Democrat Kay Hagan in her bid to unseat Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole, Cook said. "It’s a referendum up or down on Elizabeth Dole," he said. "In a normal year, Elizabeth Dole wouldn’t have had anything to worry about. This isn’t a normal year.”

9/9/2008 7:58 AM