Before the weekend is out, I will blog on something not related to U.S. politics, I promise. But I am a political junkie and the stakes in this race are huge, both for the U.S. and the world. (The world needs to worry because (a) McCain truly DOESN’T understand the economy and we’re all connected these days and (b) because U.S. presidents generally have more latitude in foreign policy and, even though no scenario exists that doesn’t show the Dems gaining larger majorities in both houses of Congress, a presidential loss would probably demoralize them enough not to fight McCain too much on foreign policy–scary. Plus, a 72 year old McCain who has 3 times fought cancer would be in the most stressful job in U.S. politics–and Sarah Palin is only a heartbeat away and clearly is not fit for the job. )
There is now a month before the elections–which can be an eternity. John McCain could still win–He has announced plans to go completely negative (read 100% attack and smear ads) for the rest of the campaign and that could work. It has before. Expect McCain to be really nasty in the last 2 presidential debates. But Obama is pulling ahead nationally and in several swing states. Electoral college maps project him winning (84% chance of victory) between 286 and 333 electoral votes (270 needed to win). McCain needs BOTH Ohio and Florida and Obama is pulling ahead in FL and is virtually tied in OH. McCain has had to pull out of MI and may have to do the same in PA–both states Kerry barely won that McCain hoped to capture. Meanwhile, Obama is pulling ahead in the following states that went for Bush: VA, CO, NC, NM, OR. He is virtually tied in IN and MO, although I think both will ultimately break for McCain–as probably NC will, too. But Obama has forced McCain to play on a big map with less resources–and McCain spent his resources unwisely in early summer–on attack ads that narrowed the gap in the short run (Does anyone now care about the stupid Britney Spears ad?) instead of on ground game–registering new voters and getting out the vote in battleground states. Now, McCain can’t get those resources back when he needs them.
See the analyses of FiveThirtyEight.com and 270toWin.com which shows that Obama has 22 paths to victory and McCain only 12, all of which need him to get ALL the states Bush won in ’04 or else to offset a loss with gains in states Kerry won–and McCain is not leading or even tied in ANY Kerry states. [Update, as of today, 06 Oct. '08, 270toWin.com has updated it's results. It narrows Obama's paths to victory to 8 and McCain's to 2, but it gives Obama a 99% chance of victory since now McCain needs ALL of the following battleground states: FL (where Obama is now ahead by 5), OH (where the latest poll just out today shows Obama ahead by 8--which seems high to me, but is indicative of the trend), NC (virtual tie), VA (where Obama just pulled ahead by 10 and now leads in EVERY region of the state!), IN (virtual tie), MO (virtual tie), & CO (tie in latest poll, Obama ahead by 5 in all others in last 3 weeks). I find the odds of McCain getting every one of those states REALLY small. But Obama should ignore these projections and work his butt off as if he was still virtually tied as 3 weeks ago.] The Las Vegas oddsmakers also give it to Obama.
However, things can change quickly. If the economy calms down AT ALL, McCain could refocus voters on foreign policy and beat the war drums–which may work or may not. He could be successful in restarting the culture wars or exploit fears of Latinos that a black president will favor African-Americans over them in the scramble for the crumbs dropped by rich whites. The youth vote, which Obama leads in double digits, could decide not to show up as it has so many years before. Obama could do something stupid that costs him the election (as Democrats are sadly prone to do). And, while we know race is a factor (because many voters tells us so quite openly–like the FL teacher who used the N word in his classes in making fun of an Obama campaign slogan–he HAS been suspended!), we do not how much of one it is and probably won’t even if Obama loses to McCain–unless exit polling shows this as a significant factor.
But as of right now, it looks like McCain is losing. If he cannot change the race’s dynamics (and even conservative columnists like Krauthammer doubt he has any more “hail Mary” passes in him) in a big way by 15 October, he’d better start practicing saying, “President Obama,”–and preparing for Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-NM) to retire him from the U.S. Senate in ’10!
Oh, and it looks like Democrats will increase their majority in the House by about 20 seats and increase their Senate majority to between 56 and 58–but short of the 60 seats needed to give Obama a “filibuster proof” majority. (We’ll pick up the needed seats in ’10 if Obama is as successful as I think he will be in governing.)
UPDATE: The attempts of the McCain camp to “change the subject” from the economic crisis (and all the other crises we face) to returning to smearing Obama’s patriotism is not stupid. It’s the best move they have and it has worked in previous elections. However, saying that this is their best shot is like saying that an onside kick in the final moments of an American football game is the best bet for a losing team that needs at least a touchdown and a fieldgoal in the final moments of the game. It still is likely to lose this late in the game and this far behind. But the format of Tues. night’s second presidential debate favors this kind of attempt. And, the McCain people don’t have to convince everyone (or even a majority) that Obama is a terrorist lover–just a few people in key groups: older Latinos in NM, CO, & NV, for instance (Obama is winning about 60% of the Latino vote, but would need at least 65% to be SURE of shutting McCain out of those states) who are already nervous about voting for a black man and who love McCain’s military service. (There is also a strong strain of social conservatism among Latinos about the issues of abortion and gay marriage. To counter this, Obama needs to find time to go back to NM, NV, and CO and enter the Latino areas PERSONALLY–as he did in rural Iowa, OH, PA, and VA. And he needs to emphasize that McCain has switched from his previous position on immigration to a very anti-immigrant stance–and Palin is even more anti-immigrant.) Convincing some older Jews in FL that Obama is not sufficiently supportive of Israel could also work since Obama’s lead in FL is slim.
But, again: Obama has forced McCain to play on a big map. He has 8 paths to electoral victory and McCain has 2, all of which demand winning BOTH FL and OH. People in OH want to focus on the economy right now and so do people in FL. This desperation play may work: I never underestimate the ability of U.S. voters to fall for “weapons of mass distraction.” But if it doesn’t work, McCain has NOTHING left and the move cannot help but make him LOOK desperate–something that can contribute to losing all by itself.