The Campaign Spot

The Take from Obi-Wan, Two-And-a-Half Days Out

As promised, here is what is on the mind of my mentor, nicknamed Obi-Wan Kenobi, two-and-a-half days before the sun rises on Election Day…

Your posts on some polls in Pennsylvania that show McCain within reach emphasizes what  some readers need to remember, that a lot them aren’t seeing the pointed end of the McCain campaign unless they live in a targeted state and are a targeted voter. If you have the right demographic and you are in a key state, you have gotten getting six or seven mailers that are extremely good negative pieces (covering all those issues that a lot of conservatives think McCain isn’t hitting hard enough on). You have also gotten six or seven taped phone calls from Republican leaders and ordinary citizens and the messages are good. You are also hearing radio ads about “congressional liberals.”

The RNC is claiming 64 percent more contacts like this than in 2004 and I think that’s probably accurate. And the 2004 effort was impressive – RNC was praised for it. This is bigger.

And if you live in a targeted state you are seeing McCain TV ads. Lots of them. For all the talk of the Obama advertising advantage, McCain is outspending Obama by 10 million in the last ten days of the campaign. That isn’t well known. And they are good spots on McCain’s public service, the economic message and in what the McCain camp calls “Joe the Biden”, which  quotes Biden about testing a new president.

More generally, McCain seems to have controlled the issue dynamic issue coming out of the last debate. The polls are all showing Joe the Plumber and his question has penetrated voters’ consciousness. And McCain and Palin and the RNC have actually been using the word “liberal.” (One amazing thing about both Bush campaigns is that they never really used the worst brand in politics against the Democrats. They steered away from the “l” word.) And this isn’t like 1992 or 1996 when the Republican message never broke through.

One final point to keep in mind about McCain’s campaign.  The public measures a candidate on personal qualities and his stands on the issues. But they also want to see how he runs a campaign – for them it’s a sign of whether he can handle a presidency. McCain was able to recover from losing his lead when the economic crisis hit and come back from a lackluster second debate and then developed a good message for the last debate and rest of the campaign. And his campaign has made smart strategic decisions about spending their money. McCain is finishing strong; he’s showing will. At a subliminal level, voters pick that up.

It’s amusing some of your readers get upset because you run items suggesting the race isn’t over. The point is that the mainstream media should be raising these questions not just Campaign Spot. The fact that some Pennsylvania polls are showing the state in play or that Obama went to Iowa now should be talked about. The fact that the numbers now show what you’ve been speculating about, that the absentee and early voting is following the pattern we have seen in recent elections and not the big advantage previously predicted for Obama voters –   that’s more than a little interesting.  It’s interesting too because the McCain campaign is probably actually driving up democratic and independent voter turnout numbers in some places because they have targeted pro-McCain voters within those groups.

About the polling, a couple of things need wider mention. Obama doubled down after the banking and stock crisis hit – he went from spending $20 million a week to $40 million a week. Now that has tapered off. So how much have the pollsters been measuring “bounce” from all that spending?

Another question: Can a polling environment be considered normal in which the worst economic trauma since the Depression has occurred? You can sure make a case for that nightmare scenario, that the public is furious and unforgiving and going to blame Bush and the GOP for the economic crisis. You can also argue the public does more on Election Day than vote its mood.  You don’t hear pollsters even raising this question; they just point that McCain came from a pretty commanding position in early September  to way behind.

You’re right to advise caution about Zogby. No other pollster seems to have picked up on that trend last night and the cynical view is that Zogby was maneuvering for a one-day headline. But the way he described the McCain one-night victory had enough detail to sound like he actually thought something was happening.  Remember, he picked up the late trends in 2000 and 2004 before others. And the McCain campaign is correct when it claims the voting this year has been controlled by “late-breakers.” So we will see. Zogby is Zogby. Always entertaining.

But watch Rasmussen too. He had the campaign right in 2000 with a big Bush lead until the last week.  And then he just failed to see how much the DUI was changed the voting and he was way off in the popular vote.  If McCain starts to pick up the undecideds, will he adjust this year?

Except for Zogby last night, McCain hasn’t led in a poll since the last week in September and anybody who starts predicting a McCain victory in the face of that record is more than a little sporting.

But saying the race is over strikes me as just as emotional and un-thoughtful. I’m a real skeptic about huge turnout predictions but the interest levels this year really do show an unprecedented level of interest, perhaps as many as 25 million new voters. And here’s the point—those interest levels are up among McCain-leaning groups too.  Are the media and the Obama blitz motivating the conservative base too?   These aren’t questions aren’t being raised and they should be.  The media was so surprised that Bush won in 2004 because the conservative turnout was higher.  What’s going on with it this year?

With so much at stake I hate to sound clinical, but this election is a classic. When it’s over we are going to know a lot more about politics and  culture in  21st century America.  And Zogby.

If the Republican base turns out, the Democratic base turns out, and the margin among independents is narrow – today’s Washington Post tracking poll puts it at Obama, 50 to 46 — then how much of an Obama blowout can it be? Doesn’t that point to a very modest Obama win, if that?

Note that in that Post tracking poll that Obama and McCain are each getting about the same of their base (88 vs 86) about the same of the other guy’s base (11 vs 10) and Obama has that small margin among independents. But the poll overall says Obama 53, McCain 44, a nine percent margin. Guess the Post sees a huge Democratic advantage in the partisan breakdown of the electorate. Guess we’ll see.

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