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MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell Breaks Down the Presidential Election

Forty-three.

During the course of her remarks Monday night at a Kennedy Political Union event, Norah O’Donnell, MSNBC’s chief Washington correspondent, rattled off the exact number of days remaining until the nation heads to the polls on Nov. 4.

O’Donnell, a political junkie and one of the country’s preeminent political reporters, plans to savor each and every one of them.

“Being a journalist [provides] the opportunity to have a front row seat to history,” she told a large crowd in the University Club. “This is the most fascinating presidential election in the last half century. My boss, Tim Russert, who we all miss, used to say, ‘The only bias I have is for a great story.’ This is the greatest story.”

O’Donnell’s analysis of the election touched on race, gender, and the media, and was a part of CIVITAS, a week-long program of events sponsored by the Office of Campus Life designed to celebrate civility.

“Your CIVITAS campaign reminds us all to be good citizens, and the most important way to be a good citizen is to vote,” O’Donnell said.

She went on to discuss several aspects of the presidential race, which she expects to come down to the wire.

“This year we are going to have either the first African American president, the oldest president, or the first woman vice president,” O’Donnell said. “This country is hungry for change, but I think we have to ask the question, is it ready for Barack Obama, is it ready for Sarah Palin?”

MSNBC now has Obama leading the race, 233 likely electoral votes to 227. That’s a much slimmer lead than the Illinois senator had just two weeks ago. Two hundred seventy is the magic number needed to win the White House.

“The good news for McCain is that it looks better for him than at any other point in this election,” O’Donnell said. “The bad news is, given this wave of excitement that’s taking place in the Republican Party because in large part of Sarah Palin, he might not get better than this.”

Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and Montana are key battleground states this year, she said. Even North Carolina could be in play in this Democrat-leaning year.

“I think Pennsylvania’s going to be very close, and if Barack Obama cannot win Pennsylvania, he will not win this campaign,” she said.

Ever since Hillary Clinton kicked off her bid for the Democratic nomination a year and a half ago, the role of gender has been undeniably front and center in this campaign, O’Donnell said. It was only heightened when John McCain tapped Palin to be his running mate.

“America ranks 61st in the world in percentage of women serving in the national legislature,” she said. “It has been 88 years since women got the right to vote. We have eight female governors, 16 female senators, and yet women make up 54 percent of the voting electorate. There is a real interest in the country to see different people in politics, which is showing itself in this support for Sarah Palin. Across the board, whether it’s business, journalism, or politics, women are still not at the top echelons of power. There is still an inequality, but it’s changing slowly. Hopefully in my lifetime and your lifetimes, we’ll see bigger changes.”