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.
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.