50%+ and Debate Prep
There's this belief among pols that once a candidate crosses the 50% threshhold, it means that the electorate is ready, and it will take a lot to defeat that candidate. After approaching it but hardly ever going over it for months, Barack Obama has been crossing that threshhold pretty regularly in the past week or two.
We saw it in the average of tracking polls yesterday, and he's been above 50% in a couple of them for days in a row. Now we're seeing it in state polls. A new PA poll, he's at 52% to 42. In the latest round of Rasmussen battlegrounds, he's at 50 or above in Florida (52%!), Missouri, Colorado and Virginia. In the Washington Post poll, he's at 51% in Ohio. In a Public Policy poll he's at 50% in North Carolina. Survey USA has him at 53% in New Hampshire and Virginia. And so on.
And while the NBC poll has him just under 50 at 49, the new CNN poll has him at 53% to 45.
It's that 50%+ as well as the leads themselves--and the consistency over polls and from state to state--that is beginning to convince the punditocracy that the electorate has made up its mind.
So it looks like Tuesday's debate is either McCain's last chance or too late anyway. It's a moderated Town Hall format, which is supposed to be McCain's strength but that seems to me to be one of those conventional crocks. McCain has had his worst moments in that format, he hasn't been spontaneous or effective in them for months, and the last thing he wants to do is to take questions from voters, since they are apt to be about the economy, etc.
The rules: Tom Brokaw is the moderator, which may mean some McCain-friendly questions. Questions will come from three sources, though Brokaw essentially chooses them all: they come from him, from "uncommitted likely" voters in the room (who ask only the question they've been chosen to ask) and from the Internet. The questioners are supposed to be demographically "representative" as judged by the Gallup organization.
There are to be no follow-ups (not even by the moderator) and no direct interaction between the candidates. They can move around a bit, but only in designated areas (in their own town halls, both McCain and Obama tend to pace.) Nothing said in anything I've yet read about what the time limits are, and whether both candidates get a shot at every question.
It's going to be hard for McCain to go negative, and even harder for him not to look unresponsive to voters if he does. Independent and uncommitted voters hate negative stuff in debates. Despite media mumblers who long ago stopped actually looking at campaign video and listening to what the candidates say, Obama is very comfortable in this format, and he relates very well to voters. Above all, he really answers their questions.
What's going to be very interesting to me are the snap poll and focus group results. If they favor Obama by about the same margin as they favored him and Biden in the first two debates, that to me is very good evidence that voters have indeed made up their mind, and everything they see now is through that mindset. (I don't believe incidentally that the CNN focus group of uncommitted voters is made up of all uncommitted voters. Because as soon as they commit, they're off the island. They aren't on TV anymore.)
What can we expect then during the debate? McCain has to come with something new, something positive, and show some understanding of economic problems. Blaming it all on earmarks and gubment spending won't wash. Obama should have more to say about the financial crisis that's up to the minute--past the bailout vote and Blue Monday at the stock market. He's also likely to crank it up over McCain's positions on deregulation, health care, Medicare and Social Security. But my guess is that he'll wait for McCain to throw the first punch, or just make the first assertion that Obama can counter.
After the debate, Obama heads for Indiana and Ohio.
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