Observations on the presidential race (or what the @#$%$ is McCain doing?)

by JS O’Brien

Today’s polls are beginning to show Obama pulling away in what were once toss-up states.  SurveyUSA, which fivethirtyeight.com rates as a high-quality poll, puts Obama up five points in Ohio and 15 points in Pennsylvania.  Quinnipac/Wall Street Journal/Washington Post, a better-than-average poll, puts Obama up by 16 in Michigan, nine in Colorado, 11 in Minnesota, and 17 in Wisconsin.  An average survey, Public Policy Polling, gives Obama a three-point lead in North Carolina.  Assuming these numbers are close to being correct, and given past Democratic/Republican voting patterns, it’s probably safe to say that Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are out of reach for McCain, and Colorado is a very long shot.  Though there are no recent polls, I would also put Washington out of reach based on past voting patterns.

Ohio is still very winnable.

Yesterday’s results don’t look much better for the Republicans.  The FOX News/Rasmussen poll (also high-quality) gave Obama a two-point lead in Ohio, five-point lead in Florida, three-point lead in Virginia and Missouri, and a tie in North Carolina.  Only the five-point lead in Florida is outside the statistical margin of error, but the probability is that McCain trails in all the other states except for the tie in North Carolina.  Bizarrely, a first-time effort from Forum Poll gives Obama a two-point lead in North Dakota, a state so red it’s almost off the visible spectrum.  I think that poll should be taken with a golf-ball-sized grain of salt.

West Virginia, with its five electoral votes, now appears to be in play. Georgia is still in McCain’s camp, but support is softening (Georgia!).  National polls are holding relatively steady at a combined five- to-eight-point Obama lead, which may reflect undecided voters in very red states migrating heavily to McCain, offsetting Obama’s gains in swing states.

McCain’s path to the presidency is getting much, much narrower.  According to Real Clear Politics’ electoral map, McCain now has 158 electoral votes (out of the 270 he needs) solidly in his camp or leaning towards him.  There are 67 EVs in toss-up states.  IF he wins every toss-up state, that would give him 225 EVs.  He has to find another 45 EVs by flipping current Obama leans his way.  If he flips formerly red states Florida and Virginia, and takes either Colorado or New Mexico, that would do it for him.  If he takes Virginia and loses Florida, he would have to win Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, and some other state with 8 or more EVs  to win, which is highly, highly improbable.  Almost as improbable is winning without Virginia.  To do that, he would have to take Colorado, New Mexico, and some other state.

In other words, McCain must have all the toss-ups, must flip Florida back his way, and almost certainly must flip Virginia back his way.  If he does that, he has to take either Colorado or New Mexico to put himself over the top.

McCain’s strategery

Naturally, McCain’s campaign knows all this.  Or do they?  Given the polling consensus and the electoral math, one would think that McCain and Palin would be splitting up and spending a lot of time in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado, while spending at least some time in North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia, and Nevada.  Instead, they are spending a lot of time campaigning together, with the occasional separation (Palin made a five-minute, hand-wave whistle stop in West Virginia yesterday) for short speeches.  They are spending a great deal of time and money in Pennsylvania, a state the polls say they have almost no chance of winning.  Last week, McCain spent time in Iowa, another state he appears to have lost.  Following the debate, McCain’s campaign says he is planning to spend Thursday and Friday in New York, a state he will certainly lose, though he will probably rest there instead of campaigning.  (Rest?  Now?)

In the meantime, Obama is going door-to-door while spending five days in Ohio (one of those toss-up states McCain can’t afford to lose).  He and Biden have split up to cover more of the country, and he has enlisted both Clintons to rally the troops in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Obama clearly has much more money than McCain.   Some media reports have the Obama campaign outspending McCain more than two to one, with much higher disparities in swing states.  McCain made inroads in Minnesota for a while by outspending Obama three to one, but the state appears to have swung strongly for Obama.  The Republican National Committee is helping out with its attack ads but, even so, the Republicans are being outspent, and McCain’s campaign has no means of raising more money, having accepted public funds.  Obama has no such restrictions, and the buzz around the campaign is that his September fund raising (which won’t be reported until October 20) has beaten all previous fund raising records.  In fact, Obama seems to have so much money to burn that he is reported to have bought 30-minute, prime time slots on October 29 from three networks.

Indications are that some Republican politicians are jumping ship.  Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, in a fight for his political life against Democratic challenger Al Franken, has declined to campaign in Minnesota with McCain.  Charlie Crist, Florida’s popular Republican governor, reportedly blew a McCain function off to visit Disney World, and has said he’ll campaign for McCain “when he has time.” Obviously, polls are telling these men that McCain’s brand in their states is not something they want to associate themselves with.

McCain appears to be squandering his resources (money, time, and people) on lost causes while spending too few resources on states he simply must carry.  His message strategy is all over the board, seemingly changed every day based on overnight focus groups and polling.  He is supposed to announce a new economic strategy today, a day after Obama when he desperately needed to beat his opponent to the punch.  He has been widely criticized for inflaming his base, leading to television images of angry, shouting crowds spouting ugly language at his and Palin’s stops.  His and Palin’s negative ratings are going up.

The media are saying that McCain has 21 days (including today) to turn things around, but that’s not strictly true.  The Republican National Committee will soon have to make a determination:  Do they continue to spend alongside McCain, propping up his campaign, or do they divert their resources into Senatorial and House races to try to minimize the number of seats they lose this cycle?  I suspect that, if the polls don’t start showing some positive news for McCain by the weekend, taking his Wednesday-night debate performance into account, the RNC will cut back drastically on its aid to McCain and play triage with Congressional races.

I suspect that the train wreck that is the McCain campaign has less than a week to get back on the rails.

5 replies »

  1. Now, now, JS. Just the other day the McCain campaign said that they had Obama, “just where we want him.”

  2. Yes. And I’m sure John McCain would much rather be 5-8 points behind than 5-8 points ahead at this juncture.

    Just ask his campaign :-).

  3. My greatest fear going into this election cycle was just how good the Republicans are at running a campaign: the discipline, the party unity, etc.. But the McCain campaign hasn’t displayed any of those hallmarks along the way. In fact, McCain’s campaign looks more like the last two Democratic campaigns than the last two Republican campaigns.

    And you have to give it to Obama. He’s a campaigning force. Even if we remove the economic turmoil that has almost certainly benefited Obama, his ground game now looks as good or better than it did when he beat Clinton.

    I’d be willing to bet that campaign strategy textbooks will be furiously revised over the next few years.

    Hopefully he’ll be as good at leading the nation as he’s shown himself to be at getting elected to lead the nation.

  4. Yeah, I agree Lex. I’ve been stunned at how well Obama has run his campaign. It’s like he’s always two steps ahead of the Republicans. When he instantly rolled out that Keating video after McCain reintroduced Ayers, I just shook my head in admiration. In a time when everyone must be busy out of their minds, someone in the campaign had the time and energy to plan (and do) ahead of the curve.

    The Republicans are, indeed, falling apart. The reactionary wing has gained control of the GOP side of the house, and the more moderate Republicans are realizing that they made a bargain with the devil, and the bill is coming due.

  5. John McCain has connected Barack Obama with Bill Ayers as part of his campaign. Ayres was tried but not convicted for criminal activities 38 years ago in 1971. Obama was was born in 1961 and was eight years old when Ayers was accused. Check this link out for the truth. http://fightthesmears.com/articles/22/ayerssmear?source=sem-pm-fts-ay-search-us&gclid=CPGx9KynnZYCFQRkswodvzfw6w

    The: New York Times – CNN – Associated Press – Washington Post – Detroit Free Press – Chicago Sun Times said McCain was LYING.

    Obama met Ayers in 1995. Ayres a college professor was teaching education at the University of Illinois when Obama who was working on a school reform project, funded by a former close friend of Ronald Reagan’s sat on this board along with several conservative businessmen and civic leaders. http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2008/10/does-obama-stil.html

    McCain’s links to “unrepentant terrorists” who committed acts far worse than Ayers. Obama has forcefully condemned the past actions of Ayers, John McCain has never denounced his terrorist friends.

    Oliver North: (Covicted Felon) A congressional committee confirmed that the Contras “raped, tortured and killed unarmed civilians, including children” and that “groups of civilians, including pregnant women and children were burned, dismembered, blinded and beheaded.” McCain knew about these acts of terror when he was publicly funding them. McCain personally funded the Contras that engaged in terrorist acts. In 1988, the Washington Post reported that McCain personally (and relatively “recently”) gave the Contras $400.

    North was tried in 1988 for his (Contra) activities, indicted on sixteen felony counts and he was convicted of three: accepting an illegal gratuity, aiding and abetting in the obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents. He was sentenced on July 5, 1989, to a three-year suspended prison term, two years probation, $150,000 in fines, and 1,200 hours community service. Earlier this year, the McCain campaign proudly endorsed Oliver North who illegally provided weapons and money to terrorists; when a reporter questioned this, the McCain campaign refused to even criticize this criminal (Oliver North).

    No one doubts McCain knew about these acts of terror as he was publicly funding them.

    Gordan Liddy: (Covicted Felon) Last year, McCain expressed how “proud he was of G. Gordon Liddy who told his audience to shoot law enforcement agents in the head “Http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-k-wilson/john-mccains-terrorist-co_b_133326.html

    Liddy was convicted of conspiracy in the Watergate burglaries, illegal wiretapping, and received a 20-year sentence. He served a total of five and half years in prison, including over 100 days in solitary confinement, his sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter and released in 1977.

    Liddy’s advice to his radio audience, in 1994, after the federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, was: “Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests. … Kill the sons of bitches.”

    Liddy has made four contributions totaling $5,000 to Senator John McCain’s campaigns — including $1,000 in 2007. In November 2007 John McCain, 2008 went on Liddy’s radio show. Liddy greeted him as “an old friend,” McCain replied. “I’m proud of you, I’m proud of your family. It’s always a pleasure for me to come on your program, Gordon, and congratulations on your continued success and adherence to the principles and philosophies that keep our nation great.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._Gordon_Liddy


    William Timmons, the Washington lobbyist who John McCain has named to head his presidential transition team, aided an influence effort on behalf of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to ease international sanctions against his regime.

    The two lobbyists who Timmons worked closely with over a five year period on the lobbying campaign later either pleaded guilty to or were convicted of federal criminal charges that they had acted as unregistered agents of Saddam Hussein’s government.