The only even theoretical road to victory for McCain is a big national change. Where exactly he campaigns makes little difference. But with a double digit national lead, Barack Obama can afford to talk globally and campaign locally. For the past few days he's been in Ohio, with a few big rallies but mostly in smaller places, where he doesn't necessarily get national media, but lots and lots of local media. This Times blog item tells the story. The photo is from the NYTimes, too.
Reviewing the day's polls, Nate Silver wrote:"With 25 days to go until the election, Barack Obama is presently at his all-time highs in four of the six national tracking polls (Research 2000, Battleground, Hotline and Zogby) and is just one point off his high in Gallup. He has emerged with clear leads in both Florida and Ohio, where there are several polls out today. He is blowing McCain out in most polls of Pennsylvania and Michigan, and is making states like West Virgina and Georgia competitive."
As it would turn out, this would be the high point of the day for the McCain campaign.
(I have to flag Nate's use of the word "presently" to mean "currently." Then again, about the only person I know who uses the word correctly is Keith Olbermann, who uses it to mean "coming up soon.")
Later the Newsweek poll came out, with Obama ahead 52% to 41%. Lawrence O'Donnell would presently point out that 41% is about as low as you can go in a national poll as long as you have an R or a D after your name.
Then again, Obama was up 52% to 40% in the Research 2000 daily tracker. He was 51-41 in Gallup tracking and 50-45 in Rasmussen.
Through the day, McCain faced mounting criticism--from officials within his own party. A congressional supporter called the campaign out for their inflammatory rhetoric. The Republican governor of Michigan said: "He is not the McCain I endorsed," said Milliken, reached at his Traverse City home Thursday. "He keeps saying, 'Who is Barack Obama?' I would ask the question, 'Who is John McCain?' because his campaign has become rather disappointing to me." A poll of Republican insiders showed that 80% of them believe Obama will win.
Then McCain attempted to pivot slightly from the recent attacks he and Palin have been making to propose something economical: a fairly arcane but decent sounding proposal concerning seniors and their retirement accounts, which quickly turned out to be pretty useless--apparently of benefit mostly to people 100 years old.
But as McCain's supporters continued to express their racism and wing-nuttery at his rallies, McCain was forced--no fewer than three times--to caution them to be respectful, that they don't have to be afraid of Obama as President of the United States, and that he is a decent family man. At at least one point while he was saying this, he was booed. On Rachel, Ana Marie Cox of Time, who is traveling with the McCain campaign, said that while there are always some crazies at rallies, she was finding that McCain's rallies are now totally comprised of "wing-nuts."
Then while the evening cable shows were digesting these events, the Troopergate report finally was released. A committee of 10 Republicans and 4 Democrats in the Alaska legislature unanimously voted to release it, and it found Governor Palin guilty of abuse of power under state law. The best quick summary of its findings I've seen is Michael Scherer's here.
It happened that Lawrence O'Donnell was already being interviewed on Keith (Keithless Keith tonight, David Schuster hosting), and had already said of the increasing pressure on McCain to denounce the violent responses of his crowds, and the subsequent undercutting of his own stealth point in affirming that noone needs to be afraid of Obama as President, that sometimes campaigns box themselves in so that they have no good options, and the McCain campaign has done just this.
There are a lot of pundits out there, but O'Donnell is one I listen to, because he is informed, very savvy and has a point of view different from the others. Of course I don't always agree--but he's been dead right on this sequence of events.
After a few minutes during which he evidently speed-read the report, O'Donnell returned with the idea that this undercut and even destroyed Palin's credibility to attack Obama, to differentiate herself and McCain as the clean candidates who wouldn't be business as usual in Washington. She was becoming a drag on the ticket, as her approval ratings went straight down, he said, and now she really is a liability. And the report has come out at the worst possible time for the Republican ticket.
I think it was O'Donnell who pointed out that this possibility was known at the time McCain chose her--the investigation was already underway. Indeed, I was among those who discounted her as a possible candidate because of this investigation. But McCain chose her anyway, he rolled the dice, and he lost.
So what's the good news for the McCain campaign? It's Friday, and McCain usually takes the weekend off.
We're hours away from the investigator's report on whether Governor Palin abused her power. Judging from the preemptive claims that came from the McCain campaign, they expect the report to be damning.
Probably not so damning as the extent of the Palins entanglement with Rabid Rightists in Alaska (as well as secessionists of the South) that make our worst seem like bunny rabbits in comparison. Or VP candidate Palin's own Fascistic rhetoric, and the loud shout-outs of racism infecting the McCain campaign from top to bottom that even the major media is noting.
Race is the topic of the day it seems, and whether Obama has a ceiling to his support, whether the Bradley effect is still real or relevant, or even if race is a factor in just one direction.
Racism works especially well when the rich and powerful are able to use it to divide the middle class and poor people, and divert them from blaming the real culprits causing their plight--namely the rich and powerful. That could be happening in this economic crisis, but it probably hasn't had time to build that way just yet. And it may not at all this time. People are looking at Wall Street first, and the subtext of blaming this all on people of color who got houses they couldn't pay for hasn't caught on as the main explanation.
But the Republicans are still trying, especially those local pols who are trying to position Obama as a street thug. Unfortunately for them, except in a few isolated pockets (and even they have television), white people are experienced enough with the variety of non-white individuals and families to differentiate (as opposed to discriminate).
Still, it is a time for vigilance, and all racism must be pointed out and condemned. Even if it continues, such vigilance may encourage a purging of this poison from the body politic.
This racism and other will go on at some level for the rest of the campaign, peaking on election day in mail boxes stuffed with hatred (and that New Yorker cover.) Whether McCain and Palin themselves can keep doing this is still an open question. Some pundits believe they have nothing else, and expect to see it in the debate Wednesday. But one, Lawrence O'Donnell maintains that it is polling so badly that McCain will give it up by the time of the debate.
Maybe so. O'Donnell says McCain is too impatient to stay with it, and that may be so. But his violent and abusive temper, revealed in this incident of screaming at a woman at a Vegas craps table, is not only a disqualification for the presidency, it could yet mean more incitement to violence.
Update: TPM notes that Obama has recognized the McCain-Palin rallys at which "It's easy to rile up a crowd by stoking anger and division." First Read quotes this and the McCain response, accusing Obama of trying to silence ordinary Americans. So I guess that makes them official Fascists. Meanwhile, a Fox News poll asked about the Ayers attacks and found that people aren't interested.
Barack Obama won the debate, and John McCain lost it. And America is getting used to the idea of President Obama.
Obama's victory was the clear verdict in the polls, the focus groups, the pundits--even more clearly than the first debate. The numbers do prove out my suspicion that voters have already made up their minds, but I do think this debate wasn't irrelevant. Obama looked and talked like the President, especially the President we need now. McCain looked and talked like another nightmare.
My first (pleasant) surprise came early, when Obama was the first to jump on corporate greed and today's AIG testimony. Completely took it away from McCain, who harped on the topic in the first debate.
As I foresaw, Obama was very comfortable with the so-called Town Hall format, and performed much better than the aimlessly wandering McCain. Although either the camera placement or the format or the TV director couldn't keep up with the candidates, and visually much of the debate was looking at the backs of heads and people walking out of frame. It was dizzying at times, and I wouldn't be surprised if people tuned out.
Pundits noted that Obama tied McCain to Bush early and often, but he also related all of his answers to people's lives--very important. I expected that, and he did it even better than at the first debate. And get this: when McCain didn't mention the "middle class" once in the first debate, Team Obama made a campaign ad pointing it out. So what did McCain do this time? He didn't say the words "middle class"again---not even once.
Obama was particularly strong on health care (Brokaw threw it up there--is health care a right, a privilege or a responsibility? McCain whiffed with responsibility, Obama homered with health care is a right), on taxes, on the moral imperative to stop genocide but our lack of standing to lead in the world because of Iraq and Bush diplomacy, on the Climate Crisis as the most significant crisis of our time, and on the call to service.
I'm not entirely sure if McCain is on board with his campaign's "racially tinged" negative blather that's been inciting crowds, but he sure looks racist: he suggested that a black questioner probably hadn't ever heard of Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, he pointed to Obama and said "that one," and after the debate, he left Obama's outstretched hand dangling.
The internals of the polls and the questions with the focus groups show that voters are getting more comfortable with Obama, none more dramatically than this focus group, according to Amy Sullivan of TIME: Even more dramatic was the shift in the voters’ personal reactions to the two candidates. Before the debate, McCain had a 48/46 favorability rating; that improved to 56/36 by the end. But that’s about where Obama started the evening—54/36. After an hour and a half, Obama’s favorability numbers were 80/14. As Joe Biden would say, let me repeat that: 80% of the undecided voters had favorable views of Obama and only 14% saw him negatively for a net rating of +66. Not even Bill Clinton got such a warm response in town hall formats."
Nate Silver concluded: " I apologize if I sound like a broken record. But once again, Obama won the debate according to essentiallyeveryobjectivemetric. And recall that, even if the debate were a tie, this would not have helped John McCain; he needed a clear win tonight. Instead, he's continued to dig himself into a deeper electoral hole."
That pretty much says it all.
But we can begin to see what's happening in the bigger picture as well as the constructive outcome in this suggestion by E.J. Dionne:" McCain kept highlighting the conservative past with his reverent references to Ronald Reagan. But at the moment, the conservative past is on trial. It represents the era Obama unmistakably wants to end. " We are clearly at the end of something. How fortunate we are that in Obama we have a capable leader with the ideas and ability to take us to the beginning of something new.
By the way, others are observing what I predicted for this debate: that in the town hall format, McCain did not (because he could not) go negative in the same terms as Palin and he have on the stump in the past few days. But this is not the last debate. I fully expect McCain himself to go completely negative in the most strident way next Wednesday in the final debate.
I look for McCain to run strong against corporate greed. The AIG hearing today gives him the perfect hook. I look for Barack to hone in on middle class concerns, but he may also have to get a bit technical about the financial markets. He knows more about them, and is trusted more on that issue. I also expect him to pivot to health care whenever possible, and that's where we might have fireworks.
Today, Nate Silver sez: As the political world's focus shifts to the second presidential debate in Nashville, Barack Obama continues to expand his lead upon John McCain in all of our projection metrics, and now rates as almost a 9:1 favorte to win the election in November.
Both state and national polls are contributing to this result... Obama also gets a monster number from SurveyUSA in Pennsylvania, which has him leading by 15 points, up from a 6-point lead two weeks ago. SurveyUSA polls can be a bit volatile, but with that said, we now have multiple polls (Quinnipiac, Morning Call, West Chester/NPR) suggesting that Obama has a double-digit lead in Pennsylvania. We also show Pennsylvania moving back ahead of Michigan, projecting an 8.7-point win for Obama there as opposed to 8.4 points in the Wolverine State. ..McCain needs a game changer. Or two. Or three. Tonight's debate, which features McCain's preferred town hall format, might be his best remaining opportunity.
Yesterday, Nate Silver sez: Are John McCain's negative attacks succeeding in eating into some of Barack Obama's support? They certainly aren't yet. In fact, Barack Obama has had perhaps his strongest individual polling day of the year...
The tracking poll numbers are pretty stable today, but it's the voter registration numbers beginning to come in that are potentially significant. Democrats are registering millions of new and switched voters. In PA, Republicans actually have lost significant numbers.
In Florida, this means that the Dems have about a quarter of a million net more voters this election than in 04. Ohio has registered a half million new voters, but there's no party affliliation breakdown, and it's the one state where early voting (which they did for the first time) doesn't appear to be meeting expectations. Of all the battleground states, Ohio appears the most troublesome. But Obama doesn't have to win Ohio if he wins Florida.
The buzz today, besides being about the economy, is about the campaigns going negative, and in the case of the McCain and Palin crowds yesterday, turning ugly and racist. In terms of the debate, Tom Brokaw apparently was not party to the agreement so he may be asking followup questions. He's been criticized recently for being biased towards McCain.
A quick fact check of McCain's most recent speech by the NY Times shows that it's full of inaccuracies and lies. Joe Klein notes that its "hyperbolic tone" isn't going to help settle down the stock market, and the fear that apparently is motivating a lot of the global nosedive. Will McCain say this stuff to Obama's face tonight? It's going to be fascinating. If McCain believes that going negative is his only chance, he'll be defeating himself as well as possibly tarnishing Obama. But if he maintains a positive tone, what does he actually have to propose, or say?
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.
The polls for Obama are not only great, they're getting better. Now the average of the four tracking polls has him above 50%, and 8 points ahead. Two state polls in Virginia show him ahead there, one by a substantial margin. And another poll has him ahead in North Carolina by 6 points.
Update: The NBC poll announced late today has Obama ahead by 6 points nationally, 49% to 43%. NBC has pretty consistently shown the race tighter than other polls have. This poll also found that Obama and Biden won their debates by a margin of 50-29.
But the wheels were turning at both campaigns over the weekend. For some weird reason, the McCainers actually announced that they were changing the subject from the economy and going after Obama. Maybe they didn't count on this, but Team Obama read these stories. So even as VP candidate Palin was starting the push by latching on to the NY Times story about Obama and Bill Ayers that conveniently ran that day (along with several anti-Palin screeds, which somehow she didn't mention), the Obama campaign was pushing back. Hard.
Obama zeroed in on the tactic on the stump. He described it as a smear campaign. There was a quick ad (the one just below this post.) Surrogates began fighting fire with fire--when Ayers came up, Paul Begala had the name of a shadowy McCain associate. Then the news trickled out that surrogates would be invoking the Keating Five. And then the big deal: the Obama campaign openly promoting a web site and 13 minute video (unveiled today) about McCain and the Keating Five. And here's the site. Today McCain himself went on the attack, in what's likely to be a preview of his part of the debate tomorrow.
Each of these strategies is a gamble that could help or hurt their campaigns. In responding quickly--and even pre-emptively--the Obama campaign tried to outflank McCain's new strategy. Palin's first attack got some bad reviews, including the AP analysis that it was "unsubstantiated and carried a racially tinged subtext that John McCain himself may come to regret." But cable news was repeating Palin's weekend attacks all morning.
For Obama, there's the risk of blunting his positive appeal with a negative counterattack against McCain, and turning off Independents, even as Democrats are cheered. There's of course also the risk of letting the attacks go unchallenged.
Since the attacks on Obama aren't new, do they have any actual force? Since the attacks on McCain are new--and in the case of the Keating Five, substantively related to the economic crisis reflected in a global market plunge today--do they have more force? Will McCain's objections even be listened to, or will they be discounted as desperate, and work against him?
Or have voters already made up their minds and it's all sound and fury signifying nothing? Since the VP debate did not cut into Obama's lead in the tracking polls at all, it is unlikely to stem the growing numbers in the state polls. McCain's debate performance tomorrow may be his last chance, or it may be too late.
There are also reports I pick up here and there of enormous enthusiasm for Obama across the country, especially among the campaign's well-organized volunteers. Today is the last day for new registration, so all their efforts will turn to early voting and election day.
The McCain campaign's latest pronouncements and a NY Times story together focus Sunday morning attention on the electoral map, as well as closing weeks strategies.
The Times story begins: The turmoil on Wall Street and the weakening economy are changing the contours of the presidential campaign map, giving new force to Senator Barack Obama’s ambitious strategy to make incursions into Republican territory, while leading Senator John McCain to scale back his efforts to capture Democratic states."
Update: The Washington Post chimes in with the same analysis. Its story begins: "The faltering economy has left Sen. John McCain on the political defensive, altering the landscape in many of the most important battleground states and providing a series of avenues for Sen. Barack Obama to claim the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House in November, according to political strategists in both parties."
On the Obama side, the Times notes he's going to be doing debate prep for Tuesday in North Carolina, which hasn't gone blue in a blue moon. The story indicates that Team Obama also sees Virginia, Florida and Nevada in play, as well as Colorado and New Mexico, and are looking to pick off a district in Nebraska (where electoral votes are by district.) Not mentioned but otherwise in play: Indiana and Ohio.
McCainites pulled out of Michigan, and now say they will focus on Colorado, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Nevada and Minnesota. (What happened to Ohio and Florida? I assume they're still contesting those!) But at least one poll gives Obama a lead--sometimes a big lead--in all these states. Though one poll last week showed McCain slightly ahead in Minnesota, the Minneapolis Star Tribune poll gives Obama a 55% to 37% lead there.
Another local newspaper poll--this one a tracking poll--from the Morning Call/Muhlenberg College--in Pennsylvania gives Obama a 51% to 39% lead. This confirms a pretty substantial Obama lead in PA seen in other recent polls, with the economic troubles of the past few weeks as the catalyst again. The United Steelworkers president suggests that McCain may have to abandon PA as well (which seems real unlikely, but unless he's blowing smoke, it's an interesting POV.)
Later Sunday update: Another newspaper poll--the Columbus Dispatch--has Obama up by 7 points in Ohio.
Friday saw good numbers for Obama in Nevada and very good in New Hampshire, which was his only New England question mark. So at the moment, Obama is well ahead in blue states and in the battleground states McCainites are targeting, plus pretty close in Indiana, Ohio and a few other red states.
So what does McCain do? He changes the subject, as his campaign unwisely announced, away from the economy to Obama as scary outsider, pal of terrorists, etc. Unwisely, because the Obama campaign is pre-empting him not only by attacking McCain on economic issues but on his judgment. An ad set to air starting Monday will call McCain's leadership "erratic."
I know I shouldn't be thinking about election night yet, but I can't help it. When the eastern seaboard states report, the dominoes could start to fall. New England and New York should tumble first for Obama. If Obama wins Virginia and North Carolina, make sure the champagne is cold, cause we're probably looking at a landslide. And even if he doesn't, if he wins Florida, pop it open. PA, start pouring it all over yourselves. McCain cannot win if he loses Florida and PA.