Is McCain Playing to Win?

Reviewing DemFromCT's morning poll roundup, we see some evidence of one scenario we have been anticipating in my posts of recent weeks: that McCain is in the process of reclaiming ground he should have occupied for some time, ground that he had given up with his dismal performance these last few months. While McCain has gained a point or two in many national polls these last few days (remaining at a still anemic 43-45 percent), Obama is not showing any sign of slippage. And as we wrote the other day, the only way this race becomes competitive now is for both McCain to gain and Obama to begin losing ground.  

One point very much worth considering is something DemFromCT looks at this morning, which is where McCain's gains are coming from. There is a very real chance he could pick up national points by gaining ground in non-competitive Southern states with wavering base Republican voters. And while those gains will give him some national points, they will in no way affect the current dynamic of the race, which is why it is possible to see Arizona coming into play and McCain picking up a point or two on the same day. The national poll numbers are not evenly distributed across this vast and complicated country.

So, today, one week out, Obama's lead looks solid and unaltered. And while McCain's slight uptick does not look like it will affect the outcome of the Presidential, it could impact close races down ballot, particularly in more conservative districts and states. It has been my sense for some time now that the McCain strategy has been focusing on bringing wavering base voters home, hence Baby Killer! Socialist! Communist! Terrorist! Muslim! Liberal! - all messages seemingly more attuned to the GOP base than traditional undecided voters in battleground states. It almost seems as if what the McCain camp decided a few weeks ago was to give up getting to 50 percent and winning the election, and rather has been focusing on turning out its base, settling for a 45-47 percent showing, saving some folks down ballot, particularly in the Senate and House and preventing a big-time realigning election.

Are The Polls Tightening? Revisited

Last week I wrote a short post which argued that the race was likely to end with McCain picking up some lost ground but not in any way altering the central dynamic of the race - which today appears to have Senator Obama heading towards a significant victory.

Today the various polls averages have the race about 50-43, which means that there are 7 percent undecided (see the latest from DemFromCT). Giving Senator McCain 4 of those 7 points gets him back to 47, a very low number in a 2-way Presidential race.  Obama ends up at 53 - still landslide territory.  So it is very possible for us to end this campaign with McCain making up a significant amount of ground and still suffering an historic, potentially realigning defeat.   Which is why those who are arguing that the race is "tightening" or that things are getting "closer" have to take a deep breath before implying that the race has become competitive - which is all that really matters now.  Turning a 30-0 football game into a 30-14 may make the losing team fell better but it doesn't alter the fundamental dynamic of the game. 

So the key number to watch now is not McCain's.  One should assume McCain gets back to the mid forties, reclaiming ground he has ceded due to his terribly disapointing campaign.  The number to watch is Obama's.  If he can stay at 49-51, and not show any signs of weakening, the race while getting closer will not become competitive.  For the race to become competitive Obama will have to start sliding, giving up ground.  And to date there is not much evidence of this at all. 

Time Is Running Out for McCain-Palin

In reviewing DemFromCT's am poll roundup there is no evidence that the fundamental dynamic in the election - a convincing win for Obama - is changing in any way.  There is now as much evidence that Obama is opening up his lead as there are signs of gains for McCain. 

$75,000 at Neimans

Okay, Simon, so why does this matter? 

It matters because in this one shopping trip, Sarah Palin spent more on her clothes than an average American family makes in an  entire year. And of course Sarah "Living Large" Palin didn't stop there - she just kept on going and spent another $75,000 at two more stores. All the while, her campaign was attacking Obama for being un-American, a socialist, an enemy of Joe Six Pack. I mean, she couldn't have spent $10,000?  $15,000? That wasn't enough? My God, what do you get for $75,000? I'm not sure I've spent $75,000 on my clothes in all my years put together.   

Somehow to me, this whole episode sums up the terribly disappointing era of late stage conservatism - long on marketing and short on governance. Palin looks good, excites the crowds, puts on a good show - but underneath it all are wacky and uninformed ideas (she still is not convinced global warming is manmade!), a willingness to degrade public discourse and lie lie lie about opponents and when in power, repeatedly abuse the public trust. I've come to believe that whatever its origins, late stage U.S. conservatism has become simply unconcerned about the common good; unwilling and unable to advance the interests of every day people over those with power and privilege; and much more concerned about politics than governing, more concerned about the appearance of governing than governing itself. 

In these last few years, this type of Republican has offered: an economic strategy that has left a typical family with less income while giving enormous tax breaks to the most privileged among us; millions more in bankruptcy, poverty and without health insurance; soldiers dying due to inadequate body armor in Iraq; as much new government debt as we had accrued in all 200 plus years of American history together; people dying in front of our eyes, on live television, in New Orleans while the government sat; a warming planet and nothing done; charging women who had been raped for rape kits; and the most systemic corruption of Congress in the last 100 years of American life.

How could this be?  Could it be that we have leaders, and a political party so unconcerned with the common good?  I have thought a great deal about this over the last few years and have become to believe, at a very basic level, that they just don't care about us. Career politicians all, guided by an anachronistic and bankrupt philosophy, they have come to care only about themselves, their power, their pals, their politics, their privilege, their Party.

Their $75,000 at Neimans.

Are The Polls Tightening?

The question on everyone's mind today is - are the polls tightening?  As I suggested the other day in my post, Expect McCain to Gain Ground These Final Weeks, the real question isn't whether the polls are "tightening," but whether the fundamental dynamic in the race - a clear and decisive win by Barack Obama - has begun to change. I guess you can say that John McCain turning an eight-point race into a six-point race - which of course is within margin of error - shows the race is tightening. But it still means a landslide win for Obama. So is this concept of tightening at this stage important, salient? I'm not so sure. 

Surveying all the main sites - Real Clear Politics, fivethirtyeight, Pollster.com - and DemFromCT's always excellent early morning analysis - there is no evidence of sustained movement to McCain, or any major change in the fundamental dynamic in the race. The averages have it six points today 49-43, and if anything, the news from the states just got a whole lot worse for McCain, as his campaign now admits with CO, IA, NM and VA slipping away, that their map is essentially impossible. Obama's number - the important one to watch - is holding steady in most polls at 49-51. As I wrote yesterday, unless that number starts to drop, there is no way McCain can win at this point.  

So the question  isn't "tightening" now; it is whether the map and the polling have changed enough to alter the dynamic in the race. And the answer to that today is clearly "no." 

All this became clear to me when I watched CNN this morning. They claimed the race was tightening by showing one-point movement in polls in Ohio and Missouri, while showing Obama still winning Florida by a wide margin. The anchor's conclusion by looking at these 3 states was "the race was tightening."  But of course by showing Obama winning Florida and with OH and MO within margin of error, what he was really saying - but could not say - was that this data showed Barack winning the election. It will be important to hold analysts and commentators accountable on this point in the final two weeks. 

With the national numbers apparently stabilizing, it will be interesting to see what happens in the states these next two weeks. My sense is that this is where the Obama fundraising advantage will really kick in, and if anything, we could see improvement in the states while the national numbers either stay the same or we see McCain bring his base home and get a slight national uptick at the end.  

Finally, as the CNN piece above suggests, I think the states to watch now are the small and medium sized states. If Obama holds the Kerry/Gore states, he then just needs to win 3 of  5 currently Obama-leaning states - CO, IA, NM, NV, VA - to win. These are now the true battlegrounds and if McCain cannot chip away there, the race will be over long before Election Day.

Slip Sliding Away

In his daily poll roundup, DemFromCT finds evidence to support the thesis I offered on Friday - that McCain's recent slight uptick in the polls is his reclaiming ground he should have occupied any way and is not fundamentally threatening Obama's substantial lead.

According to DemFromCT's new charts, McCain had a very good week last week with his own partisans. Apparently, the cries of babykiller, vote fraud, terrorist, Jeremiah Wright, Muslim, socialist are having an impact with wavering Republicans, and helping get McCain's numbers up to the mid 40s - a place he should have been a long time ago. But as we discussed last week, only getting the GOP number to the mid 40s leaves the race in landslide territory for Obama, for as DFC's charts also show, there is some sign McCain has begun to slide with all important independents.  

While there was some evidence Obama was weakening a bit late last week, the data over the weekend indicates that any slide has stopped. With 15 days to go, Obama maintains a 5-7 percentage point edge, an overwhelming Electoral College lead, a huge financial advantage and and the best ground operation ever assembled.  I'm not convinced the Powell endorsement yesterday will be that a big a deal in the polls, but it may have done one very important thing - snuffed out a few days of modest McCain momentum.  With 2 weeks to go, this snuffing out of any last possible McCain surge may end up being the final straw that broke the aging elephant's back.  

So as we head to the final two weeks, it will be important not to confuse McCain's wavering GOP base coming home with his making this race competitive. The race may indeed "tighten," but unless Obama's number starts to come down, McCain's gain will only succeed in making the race interesting but not necessarily make it close.  

Expect McCain to Gain Ground These Final Weeks

As we head into the home stretch, it is going to be important for those analyzing the election not to confuse McCain gaining a few points with him once again having the opportunity to win the election.  

The Pollster.com national polling average this morning is 50 Obama, 43 McCain. Where will the movement be in these final three weeks?  If the election ends up 4-6 points for Obama, this means we end up 52-48, 53-47, or something like that. My sense now is that McCain is likely to gain 4-5 points in this these final few weeks and return to a respectable level for a credible GOP candidate. Part of what may drive this movement in the next few weeks is McCain bouncing back up from his current below-the-floor position. I mean 43 percent for a major GOP candidate in a two-way race? No way we are going to end up there.

McCain's gains these coming weeks will be because he had been so dramatically underperforming since his successful convention. His erratic performance in the debates, his very public confusion during that first week of the financial crisis, the cratering of Sarah Palin, have all combined to leave him several points below where he should be at this point. In these next few weeks he will in all likelihood regain ground he should have been occupying all along but lost due to his disappointing campaign. So in many ways, McCain's likely uptick is more a sign of his current weakness than any newfound strength.

Getting back up to 46, 47, 48 is not the same as winning. My guess is there will be a lot of confusion about this in the chattering classes in the next few weeks. 

Looking at the Kos am roundup, what we are seeing is a slight uptick in the McCain number with no decline in the Obama number. The real trend line to watch now is Obama's -- if he holds at 49,50,51 -- he will win. If he starts dropping below that, we may have a race on our hands.  

I've always believed the main issue in the general election was whether Obama could give enough people enough comfort about him and his views to take the ground the American people were ready to give him. The debates, his strong performance during the financial crisis, a series of direct -to-camera ads have done a lot to give people more comfort about this new kid with a funny name whom we all have just gotten to know. My sense now is that the Obama campaign's positive TV tracks must stay relentlessly direct-to-camera, and they would be wise to replicate in some form the three direct-to-camera ads about our economic future and the struggle of everyday people run during the financial crisis (similar to the great two-minute close he made in Iowa) as the main way they close in the home stretch.

I have also always believed that Obama's final 2-3 points would come late, at the very end, as they often do for a challenger against a better known candidate. Which means we could see some kind of a McCain surge now with Obama closing it out in the final week or so -- if he performs well. 

Or not....

It is hard to believe we are at the end of this historic campaign. But we are, and like all campaigns, the final 18 days is at least one political lifetime left to go. 

Some Modest Liveblogging

901pm - I think Palin will do well tonight.  She's a natural. 

903pm - My CNN HD has a running dial group with Ohio undecideds.  It's a wild way to watch the debate. I will resist referencing it during my blogging.  Biden had a solid start.  She tried hard but didn't do so much. 

907pm - Palin - we bring new energy.  John McCain! 

910pm - She's just getting out there, delivering her message, making her case.  She's not responding to Biden, not attacking.  Just using this time to make her case.  She's a very good messenger.  Biden is arguing, not making the simple case for the Obama message.  He's not making his case to the audience....

925pm - I dont really understand her argument when Governor Palin makes the case that she is the one who will take on the oil companies, not Obama Biden.  The McCain Palin ticket has so little to work with.  

928pm - Biden makes the case for keeping people in their homes!  Thanks Joe.

930pm - Palin just repeated the most crazy fringe thing she has ever said - that it doesn't matter what has created climate change we just have to fix it.  That climate change may also have been caused by cyclical weather patters? Friends, what does this mean?  Don't we need to understand what has caused it in order to combat it?  Oh, Biden just said this.  Well done Joe. Of all the wild stuff she has ever said this is the craziest and most dangerous.

939pm - Iraq.  Man she really sounds like she is over her head now.  Hate it when all these talking points run together! Biden's answer got off the charts ratings from the Ohio dial group.  Biden is just burying her in this portion of this show.  She seems so out of her depth.  He is raising the bar now. 

951pm - Maybe she's a little tired now.  Biden is finally, finally making the case now that the Bush strategy for the Middle East has been an abject failure.  Her response - change the subject!  This part of the debate has been a rout, a rout.

10pm - Biden just knocked the ball out of the park on Darfur, and on Iraq.  She just can't play at this level.  This part has left her smaller, diminished.  And she knows it. 

1015pm - Biden has kept his game at a very high level for a long time now.  She is trying hard to get back in the game but just can't keep up.  

1019pm - Exceptionalism.  Beacon of Hope.  My old boss Linda Ellerbee had a great line - the words are all there they are just in the wrong order.  She is awfully likable but she comes off as a well-intentioned local pol fighting way above her weight. "Quasi-caved in."

1028pm - This has been a good night for Joe Biden, and Barack Obama.  Palin did all right, but simply could not play at this level.  Biden gained confidence, strength and his voice as the night went along.  All in all I think Senator Biden just got much more out of tonight than Governor Palin, which of course is a problem for the McCain Palin ticket.

SS McCain Palin Is Taking On All Sorts of Water

Apparently the McCain campaign announced late today that they have to win MN, PA or WI to win. 

According to every poll, every map this is not looking likely,perhaps even possible.

What was this announcement exactly?  

Am a little amazed by this admission.  It is close to a public admission of defeat as you can get at this level of politics.

538 Does a Takedown on Real Clear Politics

As many of you know I've been using the polling aggregate and maps of Real Clear Politics as my baseline.  A new and interesting site, 538, takes a very tough look at their performance in the last few weeks. 

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