Saturday, October 25, 2008

10 Days to Change: On Course

Saturday Barack Obama returns to the campaign trail with three events in the West. His absense for most of Thursday and all of Friday didn't hurt him, as the McCain-Palin campaign continued to destroy itself without needing any help. To the point that Politco said that despite some better looking state polls for McCain, Obama won the day Friday.

My snapshot in time at Dreaming Up Daily has the salient details of the Friday, but since this is my day for irrational exhuberance, I'll add this observation made by Dem pollster Paul Maslin in Salon:

"The current Obama margin is real, has been present and generally growing for more than a month, and is predicated on three very firm foundations unlikely to change in the final 10 days of this campaign... From my perspective, barring some unforeseen circumstance in the next 11 days, all that remains to be seen is the margin of victory, and whether, as these polls seem to be hinting, we're headed for a landslide."

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Hate Talk Express in Pittsburgh

I lived in the city of Pittsburgh from the late 80s to the mid 90s. I wrote a column for a weekly paper for part of that time, and op ed pieces for the dailies (there were two then), and articles for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

So I have been following this incredible story of the young white woman, a McCain volunteer originally from Texas, who claimed she was attacked by a black Obama supporter in Pittsburgh. She has since admitted that it did not happen.

She said it happened at an ATM in Bloomfield. I know that neighborhood. We used to go to a couple of restaurants there, and I sometimes shopped at an Italian grocery there--it's one of the Italian neighborhoods. It was always a quiet area as I remember it.

The facts of what she said, what police did and the outcome are in this Post-
Gazette story.
Among her allegations were sexual assault, and at one point she said that the tall black man had been upset by seeing the McCain sticker on her car.

These are obvious the kind of charges that inflame race hatred. Not so very long ago, it was the kind of charge that often resulted in black men being lynched. So the questions being asked today have to do with why some people jumped at the chance to believe them. Among those who did were the Drudge report and Fox news, and other right wing Internet outlets. But apparently the first to further inflate it was the McCain campaign, first in Pittsburgh, and then all the way to the top.

TPM has documented the facts that the McCain communications director in Pittsburgh gave two local TV stations unverified details, including one which he apparently made up (that the backwards B marked in the woman's face was for Barack.)

According to CNN, both Sarah Palin and John McCain spoke to this young woman, before she admitted she'd made up the story. Was this extraordinary and very swift reaching out simply compassion for a campaign worker, or did they see political gain in this?

One person certainly did--Fox News executive VP Joe Moody (Joe the Racist?) whose daily memo setting up the talking points of the day said:

It had to happen.
Less than two weeks before we vote for a new president, a white woman says a black man attacked her, then scarred her face, and says there was a political motive for it.
Ashley Todd, a 20-year-old white volunteer for John McCain’s presidential campaign, says she was mugged at an ATM machine in Pittsburgh (my hometown) by a big black man. She further says he threw her down, then disfigured her by carving the letter "B" into her face with a sharp implement when he saw that she supported McCain, not Barack Obama. Part of the appeal of, and the unspoken tension behind, Senator Obama’s campaign is his transformational status as the first African-American to win a major party’s presidential nomination.
That does not mean that he has erased the mutual distrust between black and white Americans, and this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election.
If Ms. Todd’s allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists (with due respect to Rep. John Murtha), but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee. "

The racism begins with the first sentence. "It had to happen"? And the strategy for exploiting it is articulated. What does an assault at a bank machine have to do with Barack Obama? Nothing, except providing the opportunity for race-baiting, for there is no other reason to "suddenly feel they do not know enough" about Obama. It is a clarion call to inflame the "distrust" between black and white. And why not, if it wins an election? Republicans have done it before.

I'll add just one comment. Having lived in Pittsburgh, I heard many stories about the bullying attitudes of the Pittsburgh police. But in this instance, it wasn't the police who leaped to emotional conclusions and inflamed a lynch mob mentality. They checked the woman's story, beginning with reviewing the video at the bank machine where she said she'd been attacked (she wasn't even there.) The McCain campaign continues its losing strategy of inflaming hate, but the Pittsburgh Police come out of this the heroes.
11 Days to Change: Is This The Oncoming Perfect Storm?

The state polls released Thursday are nothing short of astonishing. Here's how Chuck Todd described the first sets in the morning: Most of the national polls -- including our NBC/WSJ survey -- are now showing Obama with a double-digit national lead. And here come a slew of brand-new state polls that also suggest Obama is in command of this presidential contest. The University of Wisconsin’s Big Ten Battleground polls have Obama up 10 points in Indiana (51%-41%), 13 points in Iowa (52%-39%), 22 in Michigan (58%-36%), 19 in Minnesota (57%-38%), 12 in Ohio (53%-41%), 11 in Pennsylvania (52%-41%), 13 in Wisconsin (53%-40%), and nearly 30 in Obama’s home state of Illinois (61%-32%). Meanwhile, there are new Quinnipiac surveys that show Obama up five points in Florida (49%-44%), 14 in Ohio (52%-38%), and 13 in Pennsylvania (53%-40%). And finally, new CNN/Time surveys find Obama ahead by five points among likely voters in Nevada (51%-46%), four points in North Carolina (51%-47%), four in Ohio (50%-46%), and 10 points in Virginia (54%-44%). The lone state survey that shows McCain ahead: CNN/Time’s West Virginia poll, where McCain’s nine (53%-44%)."

Did you get the gist? Obama is ahead--often substantially--in every state surveyed, except West Virginia. By the end of the day, Nate Silver wrote: This is not the time when John McCain can afford a bad polling day. And yet he's had perhaps his worst one of the year...And boy, there is a lot of action: 29 new state polls enterring our database. And many of them contain great news for Obama."

Meanwhile the endorsements keep coming in: The New York Times, Scott McClellan, the Goldwater family, Andy, Opie and the Fonz... A damn good article by Joe Klein in TIME called "Why Obama is Winning..." Another amazing national poll, from NYTimes/CBS showing Obama is even getting Bush voters for a 52-39 margin among probable voters, and 51-38 among registered voters.

It's almost too much. There are alot of metaphors that might apply, but let's explore this one: the perfect storm. Obama is increasing his hold on a majority in the national polls, but the state polls also reflect both wider margins and the above 50% trend, so it's a popular vote and an electoral vote surge.

Plus, as Obama increases his lead in states where he's had a small lead or been slightly behind, he is also getting closer to making other states competitive. So the rock-ribbed Republican state of Indiana is trending blue, and the state of Georgia--which the campaign more or less gave up on--is getting closer, and some polls have Obama ahead in Montana. What's next? Louisiana? Maybe so. Texas? Arizona? Alaska? Who knows?

Also elements of the perfect storm: dissension and conflict among Republicans and within the McCain campaign. More Republicans declaring for Obama. Money problems for McCain and the Republicans, not so much for Obama and the Democrats. Enthusiasm growing for Obama, as supporters sense they are part of history.

And every day that passes is one day McCain doesn't have to catch up. It's one more day in which voters are going to the polls while the Obama storm is building.

The last day that this trajectory could change is Oct. 29, next Wednesday, six days before election day. That's the day that Obama has half hour blocks on the TV networks. If somehow he screws that up, gives McCain something to seize on, then it could get tense. David Axlerod on TV Thursday indicated he will use the half hour to talk about what he will do as President. That might suggest a fairly conventional closing argument, feel-good 30 minutes, or something new, something that takes us past election day and goes into more detail about what Americans can expect in an Obama presidency. That's riskier in terms of the election, with more possibility of a downside, but also the potential to seal the deal. It also might help make the transition to governing. It could be, as Obama might say, a teachable moment.

But this is getting beyond the territory of numbers politics. Something is happening. These Republicans, like former Mass. Governor William Weld, don't have to endorse anybody. Yet they are, they are endorsing Obama. To be with the winner? Sure. But maybe there's something else. The country is in real trouble. We need to get behind a leader for the future. He's got lousy initials--I can't see anyone calling him BHO--but this is FDR time, maybe even more than JFK. This could be a perfect storm called destiny.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

12 Days to Change: A Moving Video About Moving to Obama

Is this a different kind of election? See four minutes from conservative for Obama.
12 Days To Change: What, Me Worry?

I was wrong, today is my designated day to worry. Problem is I can't find anything particularly to worry about.

I could just be a good Democrat, and be gloomy because we might be winning. Roger Simon had a funny piece at Politico about that on Wednesday, which began: The Democrats are poised on the brink of victory. And they cannot stand it. The news is too good. Something has to go wrong."

There was a glimmer of a possibility with the AP poll that asserted the race is suddenly tied again. But then Nate Silver poohed poohed its likely voter method, and Joe Sudbay at Ameriblog claims that 45% of this poll's pool was comprised of evangelicals, whereas the 2004 voter pool was 23%, and is likely to be less than that this year.

It turns out that even yesterday's "bad news" was wrong. Florida early voting is not going to GOPers, as the NY Times said. Nate Silver again: "Among people who have already voted, Democrats lead overwhelmingly. Zogby pegs Barack Obama's advantage at 27 points among people who have already voted. The New York Times details how Democrats are overperforming, sometimes dramatically, in states where early voting is underway. (By the way, the New York Times' data on Florida is wrong, as it includes absentee ballot requests as well as early voters. According to an Open Left diarist, Democrats have a 24-point advantage among those who have actually voted early in Florida)."

But of course it doesn't take a Democrat to realize that this week's Conventional Wisdom could well be forgotten by next week. And this week's is definitely: landslide ahead. Simon Rosenberg wonders if the race is definitively breaking for Obama. George Stephanopolis writes of GOPers in awe of the Obama ground game. USA Today marvels at early voting for Democrats.

It does appear that Obama is at the very least getting a bump in the polls from the Powell endorsement (for instance, up 11 in the WPost/ABC tracker.) McCain might have been gaining a little ground before that. So there is still time for the movement to reverse again. Of course the problem for McCain is he must make up sooooooo much ground. And the opinion polls by election day will mean less, because of all the people who will have already cast their votes.

And McCain-Palin can't endure too many more news days like Wednesday. Virtually all their coverage was negative. Chuck Todd uncharacteristically talked of his impressions of body language (rather than poll numbers) when McPalin sat for an NBC interview, and he saw tension between them, and between Palin and her staff, as well as general exhaustion from their campaign. What I saw in the bit of that interview broadcast so far was the posture of resignation.

This was a day after Palin flubbed a question by a third grader on the role of the vice-president.

And as Politico noted, the only story that had people talking on Wednesday was about the $150,000 the RNC paid for Palin's clothes from fancy department stores, and the $13,000 in costs for makeup. Some of her small town Walmart patriotic real American women were calling into CNN absolutely livid, some GOPers contacted party hq and wanted their campaign contributions back, and Lawrence O'Donnell suggested that this expenditure is probably not even legal.

O'Donnell also said that late deciders tend to break for the person they perceive is winning. Yet another difficulty for my worrying assignment.

Well, there is one thing. This race is going pretty much as I said it would: getting organized, raising money and Obama getting known in the summer, a great speech at the convention, and after the debates the flowering of enthusiasm, building a great big wave to election day. It seems like I got it right--so that does worry me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

13 Days to Change: My Home Sweet Patriotic Racist Home

Except for how well the Steelers are doing, it's hard these days to own up to western Pennsylvania as where I'm from. First Rep. Murtha said western PA is racist. Today John McCain more or less endorsed the same idea, although he calls it "patriotic." As in the most patriotic place in America. Patriotic=white racist on the Hate Talk Express.

Evidence that the McCain campaign believes this is in their tactics, like this provocative robocall in which a voice that purports to be Obama goes off on a racial tirade during the call. Pretty clearly it's their belief that they can push the buttons of racism that suggest to the McCainiacs that they ought to try to flip PA, the only blue state they are even trying to win. And obviously they are counting on western PA to turn it for them.

Much of western PA is insular and xenophobic--and since I was born and lived for a number of years in small town W.PA, I can't dispute it. It's one reason that a lot of young people leave. I happen to love the city of Pittsburgh, and the history of the region is part of me, but it's a complex place, that can be limiting and discouraging. There is racism but I tend to see it more in terms of xenophobia. After all, the Steelers--the culture of the region in one word-- have a black coach, and the revered (white, Irish) owner of the Steelers is actively campaigning for Obama.

But western PA may be more ornery than racist. And so there is this phenomenon described by Nate Silver: So a canvasser goes to a woman's door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she's planning to vote for. She isn't sure, has to ask her husband who she's voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, "We're votin' for the n***er!"Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: "We're voting for the n***er."

Which leads to the phenomenon that Ben Smith of Politico called "Racists for Obama": “What you see is it’s perfectly possible to hold a negative view of at least one aspect of African-Americans and yet simultaneously prefer Obama,” said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Racial feelings are not as cut and dried — not as black and white — as people often say.”

What a world. What an election.

In other news, viewing the polls quoted in the post below and others, Marc Ambinder felt moved to sing, "The Polls They're Not A-Closin'": They're just not.

Now since it's past midnight and therefore my day to be worried (Margaret's day to be excited--we've decided on this division of labor for now), this doesn't mean the polls won't be a-closin this time next week. But McCain has an awful lot of ground to make up.

I'm also looking at Florida where early voting is not favoring Democrats, although the gap between GOPer early voters--a tradition in Florida--and Democratic numbers is closer than previous elections. I did hear Chuck Todd say on Monday that Obama can lose both Ohio and Florida and still win, in a number of ways. But it does seem more likely now that we won't know which way Florida is going to go until well after the polls close there.

Okay, I'm probably going to shirk this worrying thing. I am excited. But however you are feeling, you might be interested to know that over at Dreaming Up Daily I'm going to be posting Obama music videos. There are so many good ones out there (and a lot of bad ones too--which I listened to so you won't have to) that I'll easily have one a day up to and including election day. There are a few inspirational ones but mostly I'm looking for catchy dance tunes--there are several in Spanish, a couple from Africa, some reggae, etc. We can work to elect Barack and still start the celebration.

And why not? Why should you folks in battleground states get all the fun? Like the crowd in Miami on Tuesday. Here's James Rainey in the L.A. Times: One day a few years back, the old newspaperman who sat across from me pressed a phone to his ear and scowled. The reporter on the other end of the line was reaching for an ambitious metaphor to describe a brush fire."No, no, no," he barked. "Turn around. Look up the mountain. Tell me what you see. Just tell me what you see."

I remembered those words as I sat in the press tent at Miami's Bicentennial Park, where Barack Obama appeared Tuesday evening. So I stepped outside, and this is what I saw: a sea of people stretching out to a hill 100 yards from the stage. Women waving their arms in praise. Men hollering into the balmy twilight. Children hoisted on shoulders, their cameras flashing like fireflies.In other words, a spectacle. A love-in. A happening.

.....Many have developed a deep bond with their candidate...And you could see it in Miami, in row after row of white, black and brown faces, craning to catch a glimpse of their candidate. An hour after Obama left the stage, knots of his fans still gathered under the klieg lights, chanting "Obama, Obama!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

13 and 1/2 Days to Change: This is Tightening?

Two new national polls...Pew Research: Obama 52% McCain 38%.
Questions about McCain's judgment in picking Palin, his erratic behavior and negative campaign. Increasing confidence in Obama from the debates. Last Pew poll had Obama up by 10, 50-40.

NBC/Wall Street Journal: Obama 52% McCain 42%
Palin plummets, etc. but the big news: seniors moving to Obama. Last NBC poll had Obama up by 6.
14 Days To Change

A lot has happened in the past few days when I was inconveniently otherwise engaged so let's catch up. First the news that broke Monday evening, that Barack Obama is flying to Hawaii to be with his gravely ill grandmother. He will be absent from the campaign trail on Thursday and Friday. Madelyn Dunham is 85, and she largely raised Barack for much of his life. Here's Andrew Sullivan: "If you have read Obama's memoir, you will immediately understand why he would suspend a national campaign for the most powerful job on earth to be with his grandmother right now. One gets the impression from Robert Gibbs and from this decision that this might indeed be one of the last chances he gets. "Toot" was a formative figure - she brought him up with her husband during some critical years. Her death would be the death of his last parent."

There's already been some TV speculation on the political effect, and there's likely to be more when the windbags re-inflate in the morning. In campaigns past, the opponent might drop off the trail as well (when Nixon had to be briefly hospitalized in 1960, JFK stopped campaigning while Nixon couldn't) but that's real unlikely to happen this year. But the idea that McCain will own the news cycle for 48 hours is also unlikely. This is a drama within a drama, and may get more attention than McCain does. Every grandparent in Florida, PA and the rest of America is going to notice.

Before this, the big news was Colin Powell endorsing Obama on Sunday, following the announcement that the Obama campaign raised a truly astonishing $150 million in September. Both of these were far more important than any of the other topics the TV bloviators yakked about Monday. Powell was precise and eloquent--there's a lot of what he said in the Jed video I posted below.

Obama and Biden both warned over the weekend and on Monday that the race will tighten, but fourteen days out and signs are mixed, even in terms of polling. Nate Silver sez the trend over the past week or so is "slightly McCain," but the tracking polls on Monday showed a slight increase the past few days for Obama. (Update: the first two trackers released Tuesday show Obama gaining again slightly, with an 8 pt. lead in both.) A new tracking poll debuted from CBS/Washington Post Monday and it shows a healthy ten point lead for Obama, 52-42 among registered voters, and 53-44 among likely voters. Ambinder summarizes some salient numbers in the polls released Monday. Various polls find that McCain's Joe the Plumber is working no better than the Ayres attacks, and that McShame is still seen as overwhelmingly negative.

There's no doubt the GOPers have turned ugly, and Daily Kos is replete with diaries about slashed tires, vandalized signs, nasty confrontations and threats, including Obama hung in effigy. The Hate Talk Express is leading the band. But there are two important internals in these polls: favorability and enthusiasm. The New York Times/CBS poll finds that McCain's unfavorable rating is still higher than his favorable, and now so is Palin's, but the reverse is true of Obama--plus his favorability has risen to this point: "Mr. Obama’s favorability is the highest for a presidential candidate running for a first term in the last 28 years of Times/CBS polls."

Joe Biden's favorables are also up, and Palins are lower than any VP candidate in the history of the poll.

That's seems a pretty healthy sign for a ticket under attack. But will Obama-Biden voters vote? Democratic enthusiasm is higher, and I believe it was the CNN poll that says that nearly half the Democrats call themselves Very Enthusiastic, but only about a quarter of GOPers do. Update: new NBC poll Tues. finds these same proportions: over half of Dems enthusiastic, about a quarter of GOPers.

What about the states? There are reports of conflict between the McCain campaign and the state GOPers in Virginia and Florida--two states McCain must win. Two new polls confirm Obama ahead in Virginia, and although one poll has McCain slightly ahead in Florida, early voting began on Monday with long lines and heavy Democratic participation. North Carolina may have half of its votes cast before Nov. 4. Early voting in Nevada is also heavy, and heavily Democratic.

John King on CNN was reporting that the McCain campaign may be quietly abandoning Colorado, as well as North and South Dakota. McCain resources, he suggested, may be going into Pennsylvania, where McCain is substantially behind according to public polls. If I had to interpret the Obama campaign's body language, I'd say they are skeptical about Ohio, working really hard for Florida, and eager to pick off as many western states as they can, while keeping the pressure on in Indiana. (Obama is in Florida again on Tuesday, holding a jobs summit with several governors.)

The candidate who holds all the states his party won in 2004 and gets one or two the other party took will win the presidency. The basics of this race are the same 14 days out: Obama has leads outside the margin of error in all the blue states. McCain is behind in several major red states. Both candidates are currently campaigning chiefly in the red states.

So McCain needs a big national change, and he's not getting it from national figures of any description--Independent, center GOPers or even many conservatives. Powell is the biggest symbol of that, but there's also the major lopsidedness of the newspaper endorsements so far--many of them traditionally Republican-- and what they say in common: Obama is steady, new leadership; McCain has been eratic, and his pick of Palin raises serious doubts.

McCain's only path is winning ugly--really, really ugly--with an outbreak of racist know-nothingism that would end this country's chance of returning to relevance in the world. Fourteen days to the change we desperately need.
Colin Powell

This is Jed's compilation of Colin Powell's comments about Obama on Sunday, together with some of the McCain-Palin crap he refers to. This is a brief but very good video for those who heard about Powell's endorsement but didn't hear what he actually said.