This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," November 1, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Battleground states, we have been doing this now for three weeks, and this is our third. Let's bring in our special panel from three key swing states, Rob Christiansen, political writer with The News and Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina, Joe Hallett, senior of the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio, and from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Craig Gilbert, Washington bureau chief for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here.
I want to start going around the horn. First to you, Rob. In North Carolina, the Real Clear Politics average of polls down there, this is the average of five latest polls has Mitt Romney is up 49.8 percent to 46 percent. This is a lot closer than actually many Republicans thought it was going to be at this point.
ROB CHRISTIANSEN, RALEIGH NEWS AND OBSERVER: Well, North Carolina is kind of a curious battleground state because we don't have the presidential candidates here. President Obama has not been here since the convention in Charlotte. Governor Romney was here once when he met with the Reverend Billy Graham. The Republicans had hoped to put this state out of play by the summer but that hasn't happened. Governor Romney does have a small lead here but it's within the margin of error of the most recent, the most recent polls.
But even without the candidates this has been -- there has been a lot going on here. There's been $70 million of TV ads that have spent here. There is a heavy, heavy ground game here, including hundreds of people from nearby southern states that have come in here to work for both campaigns. And we have lots and lots of surrogates. So even if we don't have the candidates here we have the wives. So Friday, for example, Jill Biden is coming in here. The day before the election, Michelle Obama is coming in here. So we are having a tremendous amount of campaigning that's been going on here.
BAIER: OK, Joe, let's go to Ohio. It seems to be ground zero. The Real Clear Politics average -- and there are nine polls included in this -- 48.9 percent for President Obama and 46.6 percent for Mitt Romney. It seems like almost every day there is something new out of Ohio. What are you seeing on the ground there?
JOE HALLETT, COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Unlike North Carolina the candidates have been in Ohio so much that they literally have become pests. And they will be here through the weekend. Obama will be here Monday in Columbus with Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen. So they are pulling out all the stops.
What I see on the ground is a very close race. I saw a poll today that I really trust that has it dead even. I think the candidates now are in the posture of going to their bases, because there are only about two percent of the voters here who are undecided. So they've got to gin up turnout among their partisans. And as in North Carolina and everywhere, there are hundreds of volunteers here doing that.
I expect we're going to see another two percent election here. If Romney loses the presidency because he loses Ohio by two percent, he will wake up every day for the rest of his life regretting that he did not choose Senator Rob Portman of Ohio as his running mate. And he will also regret the New York Times editorial that was entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."
If Obama loses by two percent here, it will be for a simple reason. The magic is gone. After the drudgery of four years, after having governed for four years, the independents, the young people, even the Republicans who ran into his arms in 2008 now have to be coaxed to do that. And that is what the Obama ground game is all about in Ohio.
BAIER: To be fair, he didn't choose the title of editorial, but you are right about the focus, especially up in the northern part of your state, like Toledo. Democrats are focusing on that.
I'll come back around to that Joe, Craig Gilbert down in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Real Clear Politics average for the latest polls, President Obama 50 percent to Romney 45 percent. But boy, you hear Republicans talk about it, it seems closer than that.
CRAIG GILBERT, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: Yeah, and if Mitt Romney wins Wisconsin by half a point he'll be glad that he picked Paul Ryan as his running mate. But it's a tough lift for Republicans. They've had this string of victories, a huge victory in 2010, a big recall victory they've got Ryan on the ticket. They're very organized, the Republican base is extremely motivated in Wisconsin. But they are fighting a lot of history. This is the only state among the top nine battlegrounds that voted Democratic six elections in a row. Obama won it by 14 points last time around.
So there is a scramble for Wisconsin. President Obama's going to be here three times in the final week of the election. Mitt Romney will be back tomorrow. It is his first visit since August. That is one question lurking here is, you know, Republicans have sent some mixed signals about their confidence in Wisconsin. They have not flooded the zone here with the candidates the way George W. Bush did in 2004. But we certainly expect a close and competitive election.
BAIER: Joe, back in Ohio, you know a lot of people talk about enthusiasm. What are you seeing in the state of Ohio enthusiasm wise?
HALLETT: Well, before the first debate, I felt that Obama had almost put this election away. But then he blew the first debate, and since then I saw the momentum turn with Romney and has stayed with Romney. It's a little bit hard to say how the hurricane has impacted that. It kind of froze the race in place. But I honestly believe there is less enthusiasm for Obama this time for sure. And certainly Romney has more than McCain had in 2008.
BAIER: The machine down in North Carolina, Rob, what about the machine on both sides?
CHRISTIANSEN: Well, we've had had 1.4 million early voters already, which is ahead of 2008. The Obama organization never closed up shop since 2008. And this is critical in North Carolina. One thing that makes North Carolina, interesting is that it has the largest African-American population of any of the battleground states.
BAIER: OK last word, Craig, machine in Wisconsin?
GILBERT: Yeah, well, Wisconsin has the highest turn-out state of all these battlegrounds and it's also a very organized, engaged, mobilized state as we have all been watching over the last two years. So I think both sides know how to maximize their vote. It will be a test for Democrats, because clearly people are not as energized as they were four years ago. But I think we're going to see a sky high turn-out. I think it will remind people of 2004, which was a very close election.
BAIER: Any of you guys want to make predictions for your states? OK, there's crickets chirping here. OK, Rob, Joe, Craig, thank you very much. We really enjoyed these panels. Thanks a lot.
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