It appears this first Sunday in October that John McCain and the Republicans are in deep trouble; that the Democrats, riding a wave of disgust and revulsion among voters over what they have been told is a financial crisis wholely the fault of the last 8 years of incompetence and mis-management, appear poised to take anywhere from 6-8 senate seats and more than 20 House seats away from the GOP. Meanwhile, John McCain slips further behind in key states and a pall of gloom has descended over the GOP professional class.
The political pros I am in contact with are extremely pessimistic about McCain’s chances at this point and are alarmed at the prospect that the Democrats could slaughter the GOP in the Senate. These are no-nonsense people who have been in the business of for many years. They are familiar with the ups and downs of a campaign and are not wont to panic at the first downturn in their candidate’s numbers.
To understand their concern, we must look at history. For a candidate to be down 8 points nationally 4 weeks before the election means he would have to make up 2 percentage points a week from now until November 4 in order to overcome that deficit. (Note: As a candidate’s national numbers rise, there is a corresponding rise in state numbers although, as we shall see shortly, that isn’t always necessarily enough to win.) That doesn’t sound like a lot to overcome until you begin to consider that the number of undecided voters this late in the campaign is limited. Hence, as undecideds begin to break, the candidate who is trailing must win a very large percentage of them in order to catch up.
The fact is, there are few examples of a candidate being as far behind this late in the campaign who are able to overcome and win in the end. Humphrey was 11 points down a month before the election and then began a blistering attack on Nixon that was almost enough to overtake him. Gerald Ford was 10 points down to Jimmy Carter and made a valiant charge that came up short.
Notice anything about those examples? The candidate who was behind made it close but was never able to overcome the entire deficit. I fully expect McCain to come back somewhat in the national polls – especially now that it appears he will attack Obama with everything but the kitchen sink – but history is telling us it won’t be enough.
The problem McCain has is that he must play defense in too many states while his opportunities for flipping some blue states are few and getting fewer. Pennsylvania is a good example. Just a few short weeks ago, McCain appeared to be on the rise in the Keystone state, with some polls showing him within the margin of error. But the last 2 weeks have been disasterous. McCain now trails by 15 and 12 points in the two most recent polls and it appears that PA is now beyond reach.
One of my correspondents said that organized labor is pouring massive amounts of money and people into Michigan – resources McCain cannot possibly match – which is why he has pulled his own advertising in the state. The RNC will continue to run ads and it is possible that Palin will be dispatched to show the flag every once and a while. But Michigan also appears at this point to be a poor target for the McCain camp and they will concentrate more resources in Wisconsin and perhaps Minnesota.
As for defense, it is pretty depressing. Obama has surged ahead in Virginia, Colorado, and New Mexico while drawing virtually even in North Carolina (!) and Nevada. Florida and Ohio look especially bad considering that if McCain can’t win either of those two states, we are probably looking at a 375+ electoral vote landslide.
Iowa is another red state where McCain appears to be headed for defeat. Missouri is very close. West Virginia may be in play. The upshot is that Obama has the money, the resources, the 527’s, the unions, and an extremely angry base hungry for Republican blood. John McCain is being buried by the economic crisis and an inability to convince the electorate that Obama’s inexperience, naivete, and radical associations should disqualify him from the presidency.
There are two more debates where Obama may slip up. That’s just about all McCain has at this point I think. There is also the possibility that some outside force might intrude on the campaign; a foreign crisis of some kind would shift the race from one that is largely about the economy to one that would highlight national security. But I think that a much more remote possibility than Obama saying something stupid that would remind people what a rookie he truly is.
There is a real chance that McCain’s attack on Obama’s radical associations will backfire and he will fall further behind. If that happens, election day will see a triumphant Democratic party with the presidency, a veto-proof senate, and much larger margin in the House.
In short, conservatives worst nightmare would be upon us; an ultra liberal president who can do anything he wants. And judging by what we know of Obama, he will attempt to remake America in the image of a European social democracy.
A brave new world, indeed.