tonight on "nightline" -- palin for president. she gets the rock star treatment wherever she goes and electrifies crowds like no other. and now, on the eve of a historic election, speculation is hitting a fever pitch. is a white house bid next? plus -- northern exposure. there's the tea partier, the write-in, and the football coach with an old family feud for good measure. alaska likes to brag it's the last wild state. and this senate race just might prove it. and all in -- election day is upon us. and the stakes have never been higher. "nightline" brings you your essential election guide in this special program, starting right now.
good evening. i'm cynthia mcfadden. we begin tonight with politics. in what's shaping up to be a watershed election. it's ironic that perhaps the dominant figure on the campaign trail this year is not even running for office. at least not yet. sarah palin has endorsed 50 candidates in the midterms. if many of them win, it will add to palin's reputation as a kingmaker and fuel speculation that she will pursue the biggest prize of all, the presidency. so, will she run or won't she? my co-anchor bill weir has our report. ♪ >> reporter: it is election season in west virginia.
there's ted nugent with the anthem. and a hopeful senator on stage. but there is no disputing the star attraction. >> sarah palin! >> reporter: a name that is nowhere on the ballot but everywhere in this crowd. >> i'm pro-life and i think we should have our guns and i love my gun and i'm going to vote with someone who agrees with that. >> i like the fact that she stands for god, country, patriotism and keeping this country into capitalism, not socialism. >> reporter: this is the kind of adoration sarah palin has tasted from nevada to florida this fall. >> she's like me, she's a real person, she knows what the real world's like. >> hey, thanks, bless you. >> reporter: while riding the tea party express into uncharted political lands and electrifying conservatives unlike any breathing republican. though she hasn't been a candidate or held office in 16 months, her name recognition is higher than ever. she gets more magazine covers than anyone who refuses to do magazine interviews. and when was the last time you
saw tim pawlenty get a three-day pop on "entertainment tonight"? >> right now, my sarah palin exclusive. >> reporter: mary hart has queried plenty of celebrities over the years but few exchanges have rattled the corridors of power like this -- >> are you going to run for president? >> you know, i have not decided what i'm going to do in 2012. for me, mary, it's going to entail a discussion with my family. a real close look at the lay of the land. and to consider whether there are already candidates out there who can do the job. if there's nobody else to do it, then of course i would believe that we should do this. >> reporter: she was there to promote her new tlc series called "sarah palin's alaska." >> let's get the fish before the bear gets the fish. >> reporter: but the ensuing buzz is all about the prospect of sarah palin's washington, d.c. and over the weekend, she fueled it further, while pushing back against a karl rove critique. appearing on your own reality show on the discovery channel, i'm not certain how that fits
into the american calculus of that helps me see you in the oval office, he told a british paper. there are high standards that the american people have for the presidency and they require a certain level of gravitas. >> those standards have to be high for someone who would ever want to run for president. wasn't ronald reagan an actor? wasn't he in "bedtime for bonzo," bozo? ronald reagan was an actor. >> reporter: reagan was also governor of california for eight years. >> ronald reagan used to say status quo is latin for "the mess that we're in." >> reporter: can a governor who quit office after 2 1/2 years really reshape his party in her image? well, the first indication will come tomorrow. 50 candidates around the country are running with a palin endorsement. >> we need people like sharron angle and joe miller and carly fiorina and christine o'donnell! and dino rossi and marco rubio and rand paul.
>> reporter: while she sprinkles in plugs for establishment republicans, the vast majority of palin picks are tea party favorites. and the better they fare, the bigger the shockwave through the grand old party. but if this report is any indication, the rumblings have already begun. washington's website of record, politico, quotes more than ten republican power players voicing unanimous concern that a palin nomination would guarantee barack obama's re-election. >> and this theme came up in virtually every single conversation, talking about concern that, one, that she will run and she could win the nomination, how disastrous that would be for the party. >> reporter: and it is telling that all who spoke out against her did so anonymously. >> this is a joke to have unnamed sources tearing somebody apart limb by limb. >> without a source. >> without a source. that's the point. if they would cite themselves, if they would man up, and if they would, you know, make these claims against me, then i can debate 'em. >> reporter: palin e-mailed
another retort today. quote, i suppose i could play their game too by claiming these reporters and politicos are homophobes, child molesting, tax evading, puppy kicking porn producers bull i'll only give you the information off the record, end quote. they stand by their sources and say they're scared witless of sarah palin. >> she's so popular with the tea party movement. the tea party movement is going to be instrumental on the republicans' chance os tuesday and they don't want to face the backlash from her, from her followers. >> reporter: her likely 2012 rival mitt romney explained the anonymous hand-wringing. >> there was a time when the elites in washington thought they could call the shots. what we found is that now that the party is overwhelmingly driven by the passion of the grassroots, the elites in washington may be feeling a little left out. >> reporter: romney said she would be good for the primary process but maybe he's confident in the fact he's raised twice as much money as palin in recent months, while keeping his head down and toeing the
establishment line. maybe he's encouraged by a recent abc news/"washington post" poll where more than two-thirds of voters said sarah palin is unqualified to be president. that's all voters. and when we asked people who call themselves republicans, conservatives, and tea party members, even though split they split almost 50/50 on whether she's right for the job. so she has a lot of people to win over. whether she can do it with a new book, tv show and twitter remains to be seen. >> there's something about this idea that she could at any moment decide she's running for president and until she says yes or no, all of us have to assume that she's going to be part of the mix. >> reporter: interesting she fueled that speculation right before the midterms. >> interesting, huh, i wonder if that was -- that was not timed. i mean, i give her, you know, for all those people who say she's not smart enough, she, you
know, she doesn't know what she's doing, she's quite brilliant at getting herself positioned in this political environment and you have to give her credit. >> reporter: joe miller, sharron angle, christine o'donnell, they could all fade away tomorrow. but the passion of palin's base will likely remain. >> you're prettier in person. >> how sweet. >> reporter: how much new republican love will come once she answers the question -- [ inaudible ] >> don't know yet what we're going to do -- >> reporter: i'll bill weir for "nightline" in new york. >> we shall see. coming up, another powerful woman in politics, the first lady, michelle obama. we catch up with her in nevada where the stakes are high and the winner takes all. on our car insurance. great! at progressive, you can compare rates side by side, so you get the same coverage, often for less.
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well, thanks to a flood of attack ads in october, the 2010 campaign is the most negative on record. so says the wesleyan media project which tracks thousands of airings of political ads this year. it's unclear how many of those negative ads aired in the nevada senate race but nevada voters might be forgiven for thinking they've seen more than their fair share. jonathan karl reports on one of the year's most bitterly fought campaigns. [ crowd shouting "harry" ] >> reporter: the democrats brought in one of the biggest
stars to help the leader of senate hang to his job. >> our nation's first lady, the closer, michelle obama! [ cheers and applause ] >> reporter: michelle obama is more popular than her husband. they've nicknamed her "the closer." >> we love harry reid! [ cheers and applause ] >> reporter: no democrat needs that more. this is the year's marquee senate race. the tea party conservative versus the most powerful man in the senate. [ applause ] conservatives across the country want nothing more than to knock off reid, which explains why republican sharron angle raised more than $14 million last quarter, far more than any other republican in the country. >> you're going to get out and vote tomorrow? >> i already did. >> you already did, all right. >> reporter: angle greeted voters her way today, unannounced, without fanfare. >> thank you for your help. >> reporter: it's the kind of thing she does almost every day. but rarely when tv cameras are around. >> there's two people i hate in the world -- okay? that's the guy who ran over my dog who was in a ditch when i
was in the military. and harry reid. >> reporter: angle is hoping that intense voter anger at reid -- >> no more reid! >> reporter: will carry her over the finish line. she's been hard to spot lately, skipping some campaign events and showing up unannounced to others. avoiding local reporters and most of the mainstream media. but this morning, she gave us a rare interview. >> i think i am absolutely mainstream america. i'm a grandmother. i'm a mother. i'm a former educator. i am not a career politician. >> reporter: her ads depict illegal immigrants as hispanic thugs. >> forcing families to live in fear -- >> reporter: we asked her about a controversial statement she made two weeks ago to a group of hispanic high school students. >> i don't know that all of you are latino. some of you look a little more asian to me. i don't know that. >> reporter: what was going on there? because that's been talked about a lot, people have said -- >> well, of course it was
contextual thing, you needed to be there, really did. and if you had been there, you would have seen that that audience was quite mixed. >> reporter: her showdown with the ultimate insider has redefined the term negative campaigning. neither candidate is expected to break the 50% mark. just look at the ads. from camp angle -- >> reid actually voted to use taxpayer dollars to pay for viagra for convicted child molesters and sex offenders. >> reporter: and from camp reid. >> prisoners get massages in a radical scientology program. >> you've heard about sharron angle's extreme juice in washington. introducing sharron angle's crazy juice! >> reporter: but crazy juice was not on the menu. as reid served breakfast to thank his volunteers sunday morning, who then went to hit the streets canvassing for votes. >> i told the people with me this morning we have a new countdown. we've been going days, for months.
we're on hours now. >> reporter: we also have chicken angle with us today! this is what democrats call chicken angle. supposed to represent angle's fear of talking to the press. but the angle campaign has its own mascot. all right, well, when you see the giant buffalo and the astra turf and the big anti-harry reid sign, you know you're at sharron angle headquarters in las vegas. >> it's a game of percentages, trying to get voices on the line. oh, wonderful, we appreciate your support on tuesday. >> reporter: inside, dudley winn, yes, that's w-i-n-n. he's not even from nevada but he flew in from texas to help out with the phone bank. you getting paid? >> no money. >> harry reid made the statement, the war in iraq is lost, my son was there on the ground, a lot of troops was there on the ground -- >> reporter: and that did it for you? >> -- and, to me, he's got no business in the -- in the senate, to talk like that.
>> reporter: another volunteer, 77-year-old lesley hayworth, tells us it was this statement by reid that convinced him to get active in politics. while he rides his suzuki in the off hours, he's also walking the streets. >> how many hours? >> sometimes five, six -- four or five hours. >> reporter: reid is counting on a well-financed get activities to help him win. it's what helped him win the state in 2008 with a big assist from the unions. >> do you know if you're supporting senator reid? >> supporting senator reid? i'm going democratic ticket all wait down the line. >> reporter: while the polls show the race to be a virtual tie, reid has been there before. he's been running for office since 1968. and has only once gotten more than half of the vote. but just hours left, angle seems a little wistful.
as her first statewide campaign draws to a close. so what's your gut? have you done enough? >> you know, you can always do more. >> thanks for your service. >> reporter: jonathan karl, abc news, reno, nevada. >> a real cliffhanger. high drama in nevada. up necxt, it may be america's last untamed frontier for politics at least. we go north to explore the alaska senate race. [ male announcer ] opportunity is a powerful force.
establishment favor lisa murkowski in the republican primary. but then murkowski jumped back into the alaska senate race as a write-in candidate. and now bill clinton is making robo calls for democrat scott mcadams in a last-ditch attempt to pull out a win. neal karlinsky reports with the latest from alaska. >> reporter: alaskans like to brag this rugged state is the last untamed territory in the nation. they have the biggest mountains, the coldest weather, and this year -- >> lisa murkowski, she's changed. >> joe is a one-man economic disaster for alaska. >> scott mcadams has only been a registered voter in alaska for ten years. >> reporter: an electoral process that's turned just as renegade as many who live here. it features a previously unknown tea party republican infamous for handcuffing a reporter. a republican senator from alaska's best-known political family who's not even on the ballot. a democrat from nowhere turned
possible spoiler. and a state's most famous wild card of all, sarah palin. the amazing thing is, the favorite is the only candidate not officially on the ballot, murkows murkowski. a senator since 2002 and the daughter of a powerful political force here. a 20-year senator turned governor who was finally defeated by none other than sarah palin. >> right now, we are winning this campaign, but we're not going to take anything for granted -- >> reporter: but now it's lisa murkowski going rogue as a write-in candidate after losing the republican primary to palin-backed tea partier joe miller. >> we've done a lot of play on the cow on skis. >> reporter: the cow on skis, what is that? >> well, mur, cow, ski. >> reporter: her entire campaign is based not just on getting the word out but teaching every
registered voter in alaska how to spell her name. a little odd to be in this situation, where you are looking for all these guerrilla tactics? >> these are not guerrilla tactics. here's the deal, there's just not a lot out there about how to win a write-in campaign. >> the word is murkowski. >> could you please define that? >> reporter: the murkowski spelling bee is an almost unprecedented campaign. the last write-in candidate for senate to actually win was strom thurmond more than a half century ago. longtime alaska political guru michael kerry says the scrutiny of each ballot, bad handwriting, misspellings and all is ripe for trouble. >> this is like a scientific -- political scientific experiment that's never been tried before, a write-in at this level. >> reporter: none of this would be happening if not for joe miller. the tea party candidate surprised the nation by taking murkowski out in the primary. but he then turned it upside
down again by making so many mistakes she got write back into the race. mistakes including his staff hand coughi incuffing a reporte and his suggestion the berlin wall might be a good model for our own immigration troubles. you inadvertently helped her. >> no doubt about it. i made mistakes. i'm a human being. that's what i can tell you, is that i'm human. >> reporter: the one thing miller does have is sarah palin. >> we're here to elect somebody who will fight for our freedoms -- >> reporter: she has thrown all her support behind miller. partially because she wants to see murkowski lose. alaska's two biggest political family names, murkowski and palin, are seen by some as a modern day hatfield and mccoy, playing out a bitter rivalry. >> hi, i'm scott mocadams. >> reporter: a former high school football coach, who wound up the democratic candidate in this red state only because no one else wanted the job. >> so much of this campaign has
been about the family feud between the murkowskis and the palins. and sarah palin's surrogate joe miller. we've run a fundamental campaign putting one foot in front the other, talking directly to alaska knowledge voters. >> reporter: he spent the weekend trick or treating with his kids and looking for votes. the scariest moments may be yet to come. ballots will be flown in from tiny villages with little oversight. handwriting will be examined and reexamined. and the ballots that will decide a winner may not be counted for a very long time. come election day, even the day after and the days after, we may not know. >> we're not going to know on wednesday morning. we're not going to know for a number of weeks. and conceivably if it got into the legal arena, we might not know until after christmas. >> reporter: if you win, are you going to washington as a different republican than you were before? >> absolutely. >> reporter: you are? >> i'm going as a different person. a different person. look at what i've just gone through. >> reporter: you're humbled. >> absolutely.
to go around the state from top to bottom and asking people to get out of their comfort zone to support me, it is extraordinarily humbling. >> reporter: the write-in, the football coach and the man who seemed to have it all locked up just a month ago do battle across this rugged state tomorrow. whatever and whenever the outcome may hinge not so much on alaska's renegade nature as its pen manship. i'm neal karlinsky in "nightline" in anchorage. when we come back, the big winner in baseball tonight. first, jimmy. >> tonight, will ferrell, boxer manny pacquiao, music from good charlotte and cousin sal tricks. i inherited my father's '69 norton commando.