Yesterday’s post on the US presidential election is a little previous, according to some. It ends “I’m inclined to think that, as James Carville puts it, “You can call the dogs in, wet the fire, and lock up the house. The hunt is over.”” Here are the reasons why we can anticipate — short of a huge ‘October surprise’ — a big Obama victory.
There’s the state of play. Obama has been ahead in the RCP weighted average of polls since 18 September — by at least 5 points since 1 October. Pollsters like Rasmussen have been commenting on the remarkable stability in the polling for weeks: “Today’s results mark the 29th straight day that Obama’s support has stayed between 50% or above 52%.”
It’s even better for Obama when you look at the battleground states. Not only is he ahead in every state that Kerry won, but Bush 2004 states Iowa and New Mexico are strongly Obama, with Colorado, Ohio and Virginia not far behind. He’s a little ahead in Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana according to RCP, but these are much closer. Incredibly, GOP strongholds Montana and North Dakota are now competitive.
McCain is playing defence. He and his running mate are making appearances in places like Georgia and West Virginia, which is not the road to victory. He has pretty much pulled out of the Kerry states, with the major exception of Pennsylvania (which doesn’t have early voting). Arguably, he must take Pennsylvania to win, given how things stand. But here are the latest polls (courtesy pollster.com):
Obama dominates in the field, comprehensively out-spending and out-organising McCain. He raised $150 million last month alone. He’s purchasing half-hour blocks of prime-time national TV, while McCain is having to scale back his advertising spend in critical states. Even in the traditionally Republican states like North Carolina, Obama’s ground staff and volunteers out-number McCain’s by a factor of four or more.
Worse for McCain, voting is underway in swing states North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, Nevada, Colorado and Florida (in the latter two the early voting is expected to account for up to 60% and 50% respectively). Disproportionate numbers of those fronting up to the long queues are registered Democrats (absentee votes are another matter), evidence that the biggest and most sophisticated ‘get out the vote’ organisation in US history is working as it should.
Looking at the big picture, winning this year was always going to be an uphill battle for any Republican. A phenomenally unpopular incumbent fighting an unpopular war was enough of a handicap, and then, only weeks out from the election, comes the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. Partisan identification greatly favours the Democrats this year.
Still, the Republicans got off to a good start by chosing their best candidate for the conditions — someone with a track record of bucking the party, a maverick. With the right campaign strategy, McCain might have had a chance. But it’s hard to discern any strategy on McCain’s part, aside from playing things news cycle by news cycle and trying to destabilise Obama. They didn’t establish McCain as a serious player on the economy when they should have, and they didn’t undermine confidence in Obama when they might have.
There have been huge blunders by McCain. “Suspending” the campaign (or pretending to) to meddle to no effect in the crisis talks in Washington was a silly gamble. Picking a no-nothing, egregiously unprepared right-wing nutbar as his running mate was idiotic. Palin energised the Republican base, galvanised the Democrats and alienated many lingering independents still susceptible to the (phony) maverick narrative (and a number of thoughtful Republicans, not least of which was Colin Powell).
In terms of the underlying dynamics, Obama looks better by the day. He is slightly ahead with favourable ratings, and way ahead (behind) with unfavourables, giving him a net 23% compared to McCain’s 9%, according to RCP. He’s also ahead on everything excpet security, better liked, and seen to favour the rich a whole lot less than McCain.
McCain’s campaign has also been losing at the symbolic level. Heroes don’t whine about how their opponents won’t play ball (joint appearances at ‘town hall’ meetings). They don’t get angry and petty and condescending just because their opponent is taken more seriously than they think right and proper. And straight-talking patriots don’t run campaigns that are divisive, rascist, dishonest and unrelentingly negative. Particularly in times of crisis. McCain has undermined his own narrative without any help from anyone else.
Which has allowed Obama, in sharp contrast, to look presidential, authoritative, focussed and collected. Mr Cool. Squared. Not only is Obama a once-in-a-generation communicator and thoroughly brainy, he seems to have the instincts and confidence necessary to make the tough decisions that lie just ahead. A person for his times.
Update: Friday night US-time, and RCP’s poll average has Obama at his highest level of support (50.4%) and the gap very close to its widest (at 7.9%).