The Campaign Spot

Obi-Wan on the State of Play, Eight Days Out

Everybody’s clamoring for it, so I’m just going to step aside and offer the floor to my mentor, who goes by the nickname Obi-Wan Kenobi.

His take on the state of play:

Last week told us what we need to know about the election.

First our celebrated and opulently-compensated experts showed they not only don’t get it, but they had missed probably the most important single event of the campaign.

The shocker polls last Wednesday came out indicating McCain had had a seven point rise over six days and essentially tied the race. (And had gone back into a slight lead in Florida and Ohio ) The AP’s article about their poll putting Obama ahead by 1 percent was crediting what no one else saw, that McCain’s performance in the debate had actually been a game changer…

The Uncommitteds saw McCain not only as better leader, but he moved up on key issues. So in the mano-a-mano comparison he was not only way ahead but he had set up his issues for the rest of the campaign — he had control of the foreign policy issue and  then he took  away his opponents main issue with “spread the wealth.” And he had a great  visual — Joe the Plumber.

In the week following the debate, McCain had gotten the magical turn that campaigns sometimes get – great  positioning on the issues, the candidate finding his voice, effective visuals with the “Joe the Plumber” ads and four polls showing his Florida tour pulled him out in front there. [Insert from Jim: Survey USA, Rasmussen, Mason-Dixon, Strategic Vision.]

This all seemed like a repeat of September when McCain had risen 9 points in six days and had started winning every key state and showed strength all over the country, even in the northeast (remember those 4 point polls in Jersey and six points in New York?)  And the Republicans were leading among likely voters in the generic poll and going to pick up house seats.

The experts didn’t see any of that coming.

Just as they missed the debate’s impact.

Anyway, trajectories like the one McCain was on are almost impossible to stop. Obama had to do something or McCain was going to go into the weekend with a lead.

Having sat on his lead in the debate, he now seemed frozen.  In normal times that should have sealed the deal.

But… this is the most unusual political environment since the Depression.

Because by Thursday, McCain had stalled and Obama got points back going into the weekend.

Obama didn’t do anything. The stock market did a lot.

Last week told us what this election is going to come down to.

First, Obama has not made the sale about himself, McCain has. McCain also has the edge on several key issues. The uncommitted vote is large and they want to vote for McCain.

But the fear and anger factor over economic disruption is powerful. It could rise to a 1974 level where voters just want to express their anger and take it out on the incumbent and his party. That’s the nightmare scenario, where you lose all sorts of good Republicans in the Senate and House.

But  probably the least emotional pollster around told somebody I know about Obama’s lead returning late last week. This pollster said, “They aren’t voting for Obama. They are angry about what has happened to their 401(k) and are voting against Bush. They actually favor McCain.”

That’s the question what will happen on Election Day—which uncommitted voter will show up?

The frustrated one the polls have measured so far?

Or will they pivot? Come out of the fear and anger? Realize they are voting for their children’s future in a dangerous world and take the Election-Day decision as soberly and patriotically as they almost always have?

So this is the election of the Janus-faced uncommitted voter. Are the uncommitted going to vote their mood or their judgment?

SO ENOUGH ANAYLSIS  IS THE GREAT SEER OPTIMISTIC OR PESSMISITIC?  Normally you would be nothing but optimistic.  But we have never seen a situation like this before.  No one really understands it. It is just irresponsible for  pollsters and networks to do their electoral maps without mentioning how McCain has already surprised them twice and that they are polling in an unprecedented atmosphere.

That’s why optimistic or pessimistic are the wrong words.  They only apply to situations when you have some handle on most of the big variables. The biggest variable here we haven’t seen before.

That’s why key Obama people are nervous. People like Ed Rendell ought to feel good about Pennsylvania. He doesn’t. He knows it can slip away. And don’t forget Obama lost primaries where he had an eight point lead. [Insert from Jim: New Hampshire.]

 What is justified is hope. A stable week economically and a little bit of a finish by McCain and it is doable. Remember this isn’t 1974 or even 1976 in one important way. There’s a GOP candidate who probably had  blow- out debate . And that may be  the single most important  thing voters most remember on election day.

And once again there’s that  thing Reagan used to say about  the American people coming through when it counts.

So, for this week, more so than any other… watch the markets.

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