Friday, October 03, 2008

The Beginning of the Endgames

With the VP debate done and if the House passes the financial rescue package today, the way is clear for the home stretch of this campaign. And if McCain doesn't rebound very soon, it could be a victory lap for Obama.

The VP debate is over with; I said what I had to say over at Dreaming Up Daily. The instant polls, the CNN focus group and most of the pundits, including some Republicans, said that Biden won the debate. I'll emphasize one point: the CNN instant poll in particular showed Biden winning over Palin by almost the same percentage that some polls show Obama over McCain. I wonder if that's a coincidence, or is this election essentially set in cement, and voters have chosen Obama.

Well, maybe a little more about the debate. I said here in my last post that the 90 minute format was going to work against Palin, and I was right. She got weaker as the debate went on, and she inserted her same talking points no matter what relevance they might have, and her syntax and sense began to collapse. Some commentators kept saying that Palin at least stopped the late night mockery. I wouldn't be so sure. She made some very strange statements in that debate.

And in that CNN poll, Palin changed few minds on whether she was qualified. Before it started, 54% thought she wasn't. When it was over, it was 53%.

Today, Friday, the VP debate will already be fading as the House takes up the rescue passage. If they actually pass it early in the day--some say the vote could be taken as early as noon--then maybe the VP debate talk last a little longer. But most of the talk moves on to the economy, and then the next presidential debate on Tuesday.

So here's my sense of things: if the poll numbers don't improve for McCain, even a little, through the weekend, then this race could be over. If they improve a little, we may be seeing some Republicans returning to the fold. But virtually no one among the pundits thought that Palin swayed many Independents or undecideds. That's borne out in both the CNN and CBS instant polls. Chuck Todd said this morning that the campaign is reaching a tipping point, and tonight he thought that Palin's performance didn't really change anything.

But if McCain does move up in the polls a few points, then with the VP debate and the financial rescue package out of the way, he has a final opportunity to get voter attention. If he doesn't, this thing could well be over before the third debate on Oct. 15.

The big political news of Thursday was McCain abandoning Michigan. If he concedes that state, then he has to win both Ohio and Florida, and keep the rest of the Bush states, including Virginia, Indiana and Missouri, and he has to pick off Wisconsin, Minnesota or the big prize, Pennsylvania. According to Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, Obama is at least 5 points ahead in enough states to be one electoral vote short of victory. So he has many more paths to victory than McCain does.

What we've been seeing on the campaign trail is both Obama and McCain spending time in states that McCain would be expected to win. In other words, Obama is playing offense, McCain defense. Obama is not neglected the blue battlegrounds, either: he was in Michigan Thursday (and apparently won't have to go back) and in PA Friday. But he's going into some red battlegrounds pretty late in the campaign.

McCain has to change the conversation somehow. His increasingly erratic behavior frankly doesn't inspire much confidence either in him, or in his ability to change the game. It may be too late anyway. We'll probably have a much better sense of that next week at this time.

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