Spending, turnout and suprises as candidates sprint to finish

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by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on October 23, 2012 at 6:15 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 23 at 6:21 PM

AUSTIN -- At early voting locations across Austin, more than a year of campaign messages are finally being put to a vote.

"I think a lot of people know who they're going to vote for at this point," early voter Michelle Spears told KVUE Tuesday.

Also taking advantage of early voting in Travis County, Phil Sterzing said he finally made up his mind "about two months ago."

Many said they watched the presidential debates, including the last of three debates between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney that aired Monday night. Some said the debates definitely made a difference in which way they voted, while others like early voter Karen Boes admitted, "I already made up my mind before I watched it, to tell the truth."

With the debates over, now what?

"Everybody has all their cards out on the table," explained St. Edward's University political science professor Brian Smith. With the positions laid out and the best political ammunition used up, the campaigns will spend the final days until Election Day driving turnout. Smith says to do that means spending every last dollar in contributions raised over the campaign season.

"If I'm a smart candidate, I hope my very last check kind of bounces," explained Smith. "In the sense that I've spent all my money and then a little bit more, because the worst thing that can happen is that I lose the election by a little bit, and I had cash on hand."

Case in point -- Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) ended his 2004 presidential campaign with $14 million unspent. He lost to incumbent President George W. Bush by fewer than three percentage points.

Of course it's never too late for an "October surprise" to move the needle. Democratic Vice President Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000 released the record of George W. Bush's 1976 arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol in Maine. Despite the hype, the revelation ultimately failed to change the race.

"One of the things was it didn't have a lot of impact for the simple fact that a lot of people had already made up their mind and either thought positively or negatively about the president, such that there weren't a lot of undecided voters and this wasn't the type of issue that was going to really change a lot of people's minds," said Smith.

During the race between incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter and former Republican Governor of California Ronald Reagan in 1980, Carter spent the final days before the election trying earnestly to resolve the year-long crisis in which 52 Americans were being held hostage in Iran.

"In 1980 we all thought about the hostage situation -- that if Jimmy Carter was able to free the hostages from Iran within the last weeks of the campaign, this might give him just enough bump to win the election," said Smith.

Carter couldn't get it done in time, and the hostages were eventually released the day before Reagan took office in January of 1981. The timing yielded numerous conspiracy theories regarding the timing and political impact of release, but nothing of benefit for Carter.

Barring any unforeseen surprises, the bottom line is that both campaigns are now in a race to get the most voters to the booth before the final polls close just two weeks from now.

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