Monthly Archive for August, 2008

Seventh electoral ratings: Veepstakes have little immediate impact

This is not Wednesday - the usual day of my presidential ratings - but considering that the week ahead is supposed to that of the Republican convention, we will have enough to talk about then. Consider this a special veepstakes edition. McCain and Obama had an opportunity to reshape the electoral map with their vice-presidential pick. For Democrats, choosing Kaine, Bayh, Richardson could have boosted his chances in key battleground states; for Republicans, Romney would have helped in Michigan and Pawlenty could have sufficed to transform Minnesota into a toss-up.

Instead, both candidates chose a pick from states with 3 electoral vote - one of which was considered a swing state (Alaska), the other was not (Delaware). Thus, the veepstakes’ only immediate impact is to move Alaska out of the toss-up column. Democrats would surely point out that Biden solidifies Obama’s claim on Pennsylvania (the Keystone State was already rated lean Obama in my previous ratings). The Obama campaign is playing up Biden’s roots in Scranton, PA (even airing an ad only in northeastern Pennsylvania) and is hoping Biden can help among blue-collar voters who voted for Clinton on April 22nd.

Beyond this home-state phenomenon, it is very much possible Palin and Biden’s impact will be felt in some states with more strength than others. If Biden helps Obama among blue-collar whites, that could be significant not only in PA but in places like Ohio and Virginia; if he helps him with older voters by adding gravitas to the ticket, look to Florida as a place numbers could move. Meanwhile, if Palin helps McCain among undecided women, that could be particularly important in the suburbs of Pennsylvania and Michigan; if she boosts his conservative credentials, Republican turnout in conservative regions of the Midwest and the parts of the South that are contested could increase; and if she makes him look more libertarian, she could prove a boost in Western states like Montana, North Dakota and even Colorado.

For now, most states are remaining in their place, and the latest polling supports this stability. The latest from Pennsylvania continue to show Obama with a consistent edge while Ohio and Virginia surveys are among the tightest in the country. As for Florida, McCain was ahead in seven of the eight polls released in August (Obama was leading by 1% in the eight). Stability also reigns in Colorado, where polls have stabilized and find both candidates in the lead after months of Obama holding a clear lead. Results in Michigan, New Hampshire and Minnesota, meanwhile, are finding Obama ahead but by widely differing margins.

I have moved New Mexico and Indiana’s ratings this month, however. Both states were very rarely polled, but we three and two polls from these states over the past two weeks. Combined with what we know about the two campaign’s ad investments and ground game, that is enough for a change.

Without further delay, here are the sixth electoral college ratings (states whose ratings have been changed are in bold). Remember that states that are in the “lean” category are still considered to be very competitive and certain to be hotly contested, but it is possible to say that one candidate has a slight edge at this time.

  • Safe McCain: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska (at large + 3rd congressional district), Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Tennessee, West Virginia, Wyoming (90 EVs)
  • Likely McCain: Arizona, Georgia, Nebraska (1st and 2nd congressional districts), South Dakota, Texas (64 EVs)
  • Lean McCain: Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Montana, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota (73 EVs)
  • Toss-up: Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Virginia (68 EV)
  • Lean Obama: Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin (60 EVs)
  • Likely Obama: Maine (at-large, 2nd district), New Jersey, Washington (29 EVs)
  • Safe Obama: California, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine’s 1st district, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont (154 EVs)

This gives us the following map and totals:

  • Safe + Likely Obama: 183 electoral votes
  • Safe + Likely + Lean Obama: 243
  • Toss-up: 68
  • Safe + Likely + Lean McCain: 227
  • Safe + Likely McCain: 154

I will naturally not attempt to provide an explanation for every single one of these ratings and will concentrate instead on those that have shifted over the past two weeks:

Alaska, toss-up to lean McCain: To everyone’s surprise, the Obama campaign had included Alaska in its list of 18 targeted states and was airing ads in this traditionally Republican state. That was paying off in the polls, as Obama had taken the lead for the first time in a survey released mid-August; Obama trailed in low-to-mid single digits in most other surveys. But Sarah Palin joining the Republican ticket makes the state even more of an uphill battle than it was before. The state’s Governor has extremely high approval ratings (80% in a recent poll) and will Alaska voters reject this opportunity for one of their own to be on a winning ticket for the first time? That said, I am only moving this to the lean column for now, because Republicans still have much to fear in Alaska in the coming weeks (the local press will focus on corruption, Ted Stevens’ scandal and troopergate) and because the Obama campaign has said that it will continue airing ads in the state. But odds that Alaska move to the likely column are much higher than its migrating back to toss-up.

Delaware, likely Obama to safe Obama: Do I really have to explain why?

Indiana, likely McCain to lean McCain: Obama did not pick Evan Bayh as his running mate, depriving himself of a sure boost in the Hoosier state, but he has been airing ads in this red state for months now. McCain has yet to invest any money here. Despite this, I had left Indiana in the likely McCain column because of the lack of evidence and polling data to support Democratic confidence. A poll back in June showed a toss-up, but the GOP deserves the benefit of the doubt in a state Bush carried by more than 20% in 2004. But two polls released in the past two weeks have shown McCain leading by only 4% and 6%. Combined with the fact that one side is organizing in the state while the other is not, this is enough to move the state to a competitive category.

New Mexico, toss-up to lean Obama: After a summer of few polls, the last two weeks have brought us three, with widely differing results. While CNN found Obama leading by 13% and Rasmussen by 6%, Mason Dixon surprised by giving McCain his first lead in the state since April (4%). However, the CNN and Rasmussen numbers are more in line with other information coming from the state. For one, Obama’s hold on the Latino vote is much stronger than was expected earlier in the general election, as most polls are showing him over-performing Kerry’s showing among Hispanics. That will have obvious consequences in New Mexico, where Kerry only got 56% of the Latino vote.

Second, the Obama campaign is  spreading its wings across the state into rural areas that Dems have neglected in the past. The Obama campaign has 17 campaign offices in the state, versus 1 for the McCain campaign (plus 5 by the RNC). Finally, most of the McCain campaign’s recent offense have been aimed at firing up the conservative base (the Palin choice) or appealing to blue-collar white voters. While both could have an impact nationally, it looks like the McCain campaign is more committed to climbing back in a state like Michigan, which is why MI remains in the toss-up column while NM is now out of it.

That said, New Mexico is certainly more tenuous a “lean Obama” state than any of the others in that category, but it is very much parallel to Florida - a state that could make its way back to the toss-up group in a heartbeat and where polling finds is not that consistent.

History of Campaign Diaries’ electoral ratings:

  • August 31st: + 16 Obama (243 for Obama [154 safe, 29 likely, 60 lean] and 227 for McCain [93 safe, 75 likely, 59 lean]
  • August 20th: + 14 Obama (238 for Obama [151 safe, 32 likely, 55 lean] and 224 for McCain [90 safe, 75 likely, 59 lean]
  • July 30th: + 38 Obama (238 for Obama [151 safe, 42 likely, 45 lean] and 200 for McCain [90 safe, 75 likely, 35 lean]
  • July 16th: +28 Obama (255 for Obama [150 safe, 43 likely, 62 lean] and 227 for McCain [90 safe, 78 likely, 59 lean]
  • July 2rd: +11 Obama (238 for Obama [143 safe, 50 likely, 45 lean] and 227 for McCain [93 safe, 78 likely, 56 lean])
  • June 18th: +22 Obama (238 for Obama [86 safe, 97 likely, 55 lean] and 216 for McCain [87 safe, 87 likely, 42 lean])
  • June 4th: +20 McCain (207 for Obama [76 base, 107 likely, 24 lean] and 227 for McCain [97 safe, 77 likely, 53 lean])

GOP rethinks its convention, as Gustav forces cancellation of Monday night session

In 2005, the federal government’s horrendous response to Katrina sealed President Bush’s unpopularity. Three years later and merely days after Katrina’s anniversary, another storm - the “mother of all storms” said Mayor Nagin - threatens Louisiana. I stayed away from discussing Gustav’s political consequences for as long as I could, but this remains an electoral blog and the story’s political ramifications are too significant to not address here. As New Orleans is now evacuating 24 hours from the start of the Republican convention, that topic looks inescapable.

First, let’s get one thing straight: Ballot deadlines are looming and the GOP has to hold some kind of convention extremely soon to officially nominate John McCain and Sarah Palin and get them on state ballots. And Republicans cannot delay the convention: Thousands of flights, hotel reservations and other preparations have already been done. The convention can be shortened, but it is hardly feasible to postpone it.

Thus, Republicans have to prepare for the coming week without knowing just how bad the damage will be. This is a very subtle balancing act:

  1. On the one hand, the GOP convention is meant to be a giant celebration of the party’s nominee; it is supposed to introduce John McCain’s story to voters while also attacking Obama. On the other hand, holding a big party when a natural disaster is hitting the Gulf would not come across well - to say the least - and partisan speeches blasting Obama would not play off so well either.
  2. On the one hand, Republicans will want to show their commitment to helping the devastated states. On the other, they have to be careful to not politicize Gustav.

For now, Gustav’s one known consequence on the GOP convention is that the Monday night line-up is decimated. George Bush and Dick Cheney have both canceled their trip to Minneapolis. Three years after Katrina, the last thing Bush wants to do is look like he is neglecting yet another hurricane. Instead, Bush might address the nation about Gustav with a live televised address from the White House. And Arnold Schwarzenegger has also canceled his Monday night appearance because of a budget crisis in Sacramento. [Update: Well, the GOP has gone forward and canceled Monday's convention events but the afternoon session meant to get the process going. No word yet on what happens after Monday.]

Politico writes that these cancellations are a “crushing disappointment” for the convention organizers, but I am certainly not sure that is true. For weeks now, GOP strategists have been terrified that Bush’s presence at the convention would make it easier for Obama to tie him to McCain. In 2000, Democrats transformed Bill Clinton’s Monday night speech into a big occasion, but that was certainly not going to be the case tomorrow night. Now, Monday (the night organizers were the most worried about, the night that was going to be about Bush, the night that they wouldn’t really be able to air any attacks on Obama anyway) has been scrapped!

Beyond that first night, however, the convention being washed away could become disastrous for Republicans as they would lose their opportunity to make their case in a vacuum in front of millions of viewers. This is millions of dollars of preparation we are talking about, and a shot at a week-long infomercial. (1) Speakers like Rudy Giuliani who were going to go all-out against Obama and against the Democratic Party will surely be forced to quiet their tone to avoid sounding too partisan. (2) Will there even be TV coverage? Republicans only have four days (including four hours of primetime on network TV) to make their case to voters. But TV anchors, network news and the press will now be looking at the Gulf, not at the Twin Cities.

The McCain campaign is trying to make the most of this bad situation and treat the convention’s last three days as an opportunity to celebrate McCain’s service and sacrifice, an opportunity to highlight McCain’s slogan - “country first” - and make him look uninterested in attacking his opponents. (After a summer of attack ads, it would be quite remarkable if McCain pulls this off.) Politico writes that Gustav could allow for a Republican redemption for McCain to show that he is competent and interesting in “serving a cause greater than yourself.” That is indeed what McCain was going for today when he said the convention would become “a call to the nation for action.” He told reporters:

I pledge that tomorrow night and if necessary throughout our convention, we will act as Americans and not as Republicans because America needs us now. No matter what we are — Republican or Democratic — America needs us to do what all Americans have always done in times of disaster and challenge.

People expect the convention to be a partisan celebration, but McCain could transform it into a giant public service gathering meant to help the hurricane victims. There is talk of holding a telethon, getting the Red Cross involved and get delegated to raise money, prepare help packets. In other words, Republicans would look to show McCain is the anti-Bush, someone who can raise to the challenge, put politics aside and tap into the “American spirit.” As Democrats reminded us over and over again last week (starting with Mark Warner), the failure to do so was Bush’s great weakness.

The question, of course, is how much media time this would gain, and how would it be organized? Who would be the speakers, would they address politics and would they praise McCain? How much will the press be looking at Louisana, and how much time will there be for Republicans to get any coverage at all? If the Republicans’ public service efforts are simply mentioned in news stories rather than broadcast, the Obama campaign’s own efforts to mobilize volunteers and use its e-mail list will surely be mentioned as well.

But for the GOP, the biggest risk would be to look like it is politicizing the occasion and exploiting Gustav for political gain. No one will blame Republicans for cutting down on the political speeches and devoting time to fundraising for hurricane victims, but McCain might be crossing the line with this idea to deliver his acceptance speech via satellite from the devastated zones rather than live from the convention hall. There is no telling how that might look on television nor how people would react, but it is difficult to think of a more opportunistic move.

McCain already visited an emergency center in Mississippi today with his wife and Sarah Palin. Obama, on the other hand, said that he would not go to the threatened areas because he was afraid his presence might distract local authorities from more pressing concerns. “The thing that I always am concerned about in the middle of a storm is whether we’re drawing resources away from folks on the ground,” Obama said, while being careful of adding that “it is fine” of McCain to visit Mississippi. You might remember that a similar controversy arose earlier in the summer when McCain visited the flooded areas of Iowa and Obama chose to stay away.

In short: Republicans are unlikely to mind that Bush and Cheney cancelled their appearances but beyond that they are losing their big week. They have somewhat of a Plan B, which is to highlight McCain’s service and his willingness to put country above partisan politics. That could certainly help improve McCain’s image and reestablish some of his maverick reputation. But it could also backfire if McCain pushes it too far. Like many things concering the GOP these days, we will have to wait and see.

GOP ponders fate of summer attacks, Obama continues strategy of narrow advertisments

For the past month, Obama and McCain’s advertisement campaigns have been relying on different strategies. On the one hand, the McCain campaign has released a series of ads that hammer the same “dangerously unprepared celebrity” theme. These ads use similar graphics, the same brown background, that same creepy female voice. They are not specific to a region or to a demographic because they attack Obama’s character and qualifications, the goal being to shape the campaign’s coverage by putting the spotlight on Obama and planting one overarching worry in voters’ mind - that he is not “ready to lead.”

While the Obama campaign has also been pushing an overarching theme (McCain=Bush=awful economy) nationally, it has also unleashed a wave of issue-specific and state-specific attacks. They have often not released those spots to the media, ensuring that the GOP’s response is delayed. That has often given us the impression that the Obama campaign was pulling punches, but they have been on the offensive in Ohio over DHL, Georgia over Ralph Reed, Nevada over Yucca Mountain.

Now, the GOP is facing a big problem. Its summer attacks had been remarkably successful in putting Obama on the defensive and tightening the race. Republicans had been laying the ground for mounting attacks on Obama’s experience, and they had just recently added the word “dangerously” in front of the “not ready to lead” slogan. But Sarah Palin’s pick directly contradicts that one overarching theme that the McCain campaign has been pushing so hard. Voters might judge Palin’s experience-level to be adequate, but can the GOP continue pushing Obama’s inexperience as an argument? If not, what happens to all that summer groundwork? The New York Times reports that this could become a problem next week as the convention had been designed to focus on Obama’s readiness level:

Republican organizers said the convention aides in charge of reviewing every speech delivered from the lectern are now on the watch for blunt attacks on Mr. Obama’s readiness to lead, and reviewing how much to emphasize what had been the convention theme: “Not Ready ’08.” They are aware that such criticism in a high-profile setting would provide an opportunity for Democrats to make the same charge against Ms. Palin. …

“We’ve been told for the last few months that experience is what matters most in the next White House,” said John Scates, a delegate from St. Louis. “But McCain is picking someone whose experience is little to nothing or, at best, unknown.

The convention was meant to make the case against Obama, and the GOP really needs to make him look unacceptable. How will they do so now, and is it not too late to introduce an entirely new narrative now? The McCain campaign had two choices to go with: (1) Obama is all-fame no-substance, (2) Obama is a dangerous radical. Most of McCain’s ads have been pushing the first narrative, but groups on the periphery (state Republican parties, AIE) have been playing with the second. Will McCain now turn to the second as well, and how long before Wright is invoked in Republican ads? Is it too late to make this happen for next week’s convention?

Meanwhile, Obama looks to be continuing its strategy of state and issue-specific ads. Just today the campaign unveiled two separate spots. The first is devoted to the economy and will air in Michigan. It accuses McCain of opposing government help to automakers and having voted to give tax cuts to companies that ship job oversees. A similar message could be used in other states, but Michigan is of course particularly hit by the auto-industry crisis and the economic downturn in general.

The second ad, narrated by Joe Biden, touts his Scranton roots and describes Obama’s roots as similar to his. Biden, who represents Delaware, calls Scranton “home,” an obvious play for Pennsylvania. And not only is this ad state-specific, but it is region-specific as well: it will only air in Northeastern Pennsylvania!

The Obama campaign will surely monitor the reception of that Scranton ad, as well as the success of the convention’s pushing the narrative of Obama as the embodiment of the American Dream. If blue-collar voters are feeling reassured, similar ads should be seen throughout Pennsylvania and Biden should be dispatched to blue-collar areas in states like Ohio, North Carolina.

Michigan and Pennsylvania are two must-win states for the Obama campaign. They were both won by Gore and Kerry and it is difficult to envision Obama winning the White House while losing either of these. Democrats seem like they intend to treat Pennsylvania as Biden’s home state, but some Republicans think Palin will play well in both of these states by appealing to Pennsylvania’s suburban women and by exciting the Michigan and Western Pennsylvania social conservatives.

There could be more localized advertisement to come. That same New York Times article reports that the Obama campaign feels it needs to attack McCain on abortion and pay equity and make a more explicit push for the undecided female vote. (Those issues have not been a focus of the campaign so far.) Odds are Obama would not air ads warning that McCain would threaten Roe v. Wade nationally nor in entire states. The suburbs of Philadelphia, for instance, would be a good area to hit McCain and Palin on abortion, as the GOP’s pro-life platform has long hurt the party’s outreach among female in that region. More generally, pointing out that Palin is to the right of McCain on abortion and perhaps talking more about judges will be key for Obama to hold on to Hillary supporters.

The aftermath: McCain’s money flow, Palin’s independent appeal, and Obama’s counter

With all the excitement surrounding Palin’s pick, I forgot to mention that yesterday was Campaign Diaries‘ first birthday! My first post was devoted to Senate races (ID, LA and SD), and I am particularly proud of having posted every single day of this first year. I am planning to experiment with a “One year ago today” feature on the sidebar (any feedback welcomed!).

As the Palin pick continues to generate more heated discussion on this blog than any story since Clinton’s concession, information continues to come in about the circumstances surrounding it. Particularly shocking is ABC’s report that McCain was leaning towards Lieberman as late as last week-end, and that only on Sunday night did his advisers convince him that he could not afford the conservative rebellion that would undoubtedly follow. ABC adds that only since Sunday did lawyers thoroughly review Palin’s vetting information, and even McCain’s inner circle was kept uninformed. This might seem unlikely, but we already know that McCain had only met Palin once months ago.

This report might be very significant: We know that Palin’s name was in the mix for months, but if it is true that she only got a serious look over the past few days, could the vetting process have been as thorough as it should have been? Were Palin’s potential downsides (troopergate [here is a good rundown of the scandal], Buchanan, her connection with Ted Stevens, her staunchly conservative stances on abortion or creationism) tested as much as the downsides’ of other candidates? And how much evidence does the campaign have that the female vote is truly up for grabs?

Like everything else about Palin’s pick, this could play either way. McCain’s choice could look refreshingly spontaneous, maverick-like. But if the vetting was done too quickly, if advisers were not consulted enough and if something was missed in the process, there is no telling how disastrous the next two months could be. GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (whose father Palin defeated in 2006) has this to say about troopergate’s potential impact: “We really don’t know. The governor doesn’t know, you know; she sort of started her own investigation, encouraged it. I don’t think any of us really know — I certainly don’t know — that’s still unfolding.” Does the McCain campaign know?

Another incredible storyline behind that report is how quickly conservatives went from one of their nightmare choices to one of their favorites. I understated the significance of this in my first two analyses. McCain has always had problems with his base, and while people like Limbaugh had rallied behind him, they did so reluctantly. But conservative activists, the grassroots whose indifference was massively threatening the GOP’s ground game, seem to be truly fired up. The National Review continues to glow, and Politico’s Martin finds the same phenomenon.

This is not 2004. Democrats can win on the strength of its base, but the GOP has lost too many independents for the base to carry it to victory. Yet, it is unimaginable that McCain could win without strong grassroots enthusiasm and if the Palin pick does nothing more than fire up the base, I believe it would be worth it for McCain. Here again, however, the question arises: Jindal would have gotten the base just as excited, and had a thicker resume.

The enthusiasm the pick has generated is evident in the money flow to McCain’s coffers. He reportedly raised $4.49 million yesterday alone, an impressive sum by his standards. But remember one thing: It is too late for McCain’s fundraising to make much impact. His campaign only has 5 more days to spend whatever money they get. Starting on Thursday, McCain will be restricted to the $84 million he will get from public financing.

Perhaps due to the need to spend whatever money it has left and in particular this last-minute infusion, the McCain campaign has significantly expanded its ad buy to include, for the very first time, two new media markets in North Carolina. Obama had the state’s airwaves for himself since June, and this is the first sign that McCain is taking the threat seriously. He has also bought time in Virginia outside of NOVA, as well as in new markets in Iowa, New Mexico, New Hampshire. Particularly interesting is that viewers in Omaha (whose market reaches in Western Iowa) will now see McCain’s ads. The Omaha-based district will award one electoral vote, and Obama looks competitive.

We will have to see whether McCain keeps up this expansion starting next Friday. $84 million of public money can do a lot in the space of 2 months, but it cannot fund an effective campaign in as many states as McCain is advertising in right now. If the campaign is worried about NC and wants to keep up its spending there, it will have to cut that from somewhere else.

Beyond conservatives, an important question is Palin’s impact among independents. Gallup points out that independent women are the key constituency that Palin could move, and Rasmussen’s tracking poll from today explains why: The day after Palin’s selection, the electorate’s reaction is positive. 53% of respondents have a favorable impression of her, versus 26%. Predictably, Republicans like her, Democrats do not (including women, among which Palin’s rating is 23%), but look at independents: 63% of them have a favorable impression of Palin, and that figure is 61% among independent women. In other words, independents are reacting to Palin the same way Republicans are.

Palin’s potential, then, could come from her appeal to independent. She could look like a refreshing, maverick face and thus lead voters to have the same impression of McCain. This is the threat the Obama campaign moved to address today in its first post-Palin ad. McCain might have chosen Palin, the ad repeats, but that doesn’t mean he is less beholden to the Bush agenda. The spot takes no hit at Palin (too early?) but uses many pictures of a McCain-Bush embrace. The ad is only running on national cable, so it is meant to influence coverage more than reach voters.

A question: Is the ad acknowledging that Palin is not a Bush Republican? “While this might be his running mate, America knows that this [insert Bush picture] is John McCain’s agenda,” the ad says. While it would be foolish of them to attack Palin as a typical GOPer, Democrat might want to be careful to not paint her as a maverick.

But the biggest “huh?” of the day belongs to top McCain adviser Charlie Black’s statement in the New York Times:

She’s going to learn national security at the foot of the master for the next four years, and most doctors think that he’ll be around at least that long.

I assume this was meant as a joke, but I am not sure it comes across as one given that this is a very real concern Democrats are hinting at and that voters are sure to think about. It seems that Republicans are just as unprepared as Hutchinson and as Democrats to respond to the Palin pick.

And someone might want to tell the Alaska GOP to sound a bit more enthusiastic, however much they dislike Palin. Sen. Stevens sounds enthusiastic but not many other GOPers. The Republican House Speaker said: “She’s old enough. She’s a U.S. citizen.” Added the Republican state Senate President: “She’s not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president? Look at what she’s done to this state. What would she do to the nation?” Though considering the heat Palin received a few months ago when she giggled as a radio host called Green a bitch and cancer, it might not be all that surprising.

Update: There is nothing scientific about the New York Times interviewing dozens of undecided women nationwide, but this article is still worth a read. The newspaper is finding varying reactions to the Palin pick - in fact, as many as is possible: Republican-leaning women who feel more comfortable about McCain, Republican-leaning women who now worry about experience, Clinton supporters who are put off by her abortion stance, independents who worry that this is a token choice, etc.

The Palin pick, a few hours later

My first take on Palin’s pick summarized all of its initially known promises and risks. With such a stunning pick, analyses are bound to evolve as reactions, YouTube videos, trivia facts and old quotes come to light. After half a day of coverage, we are starting to get a better idea of the dynamics of the debate surrounding Palin, and while she still holds the promise of greatly helping McCain’s candidacy, the downsides to her candidacy are looking a bit more clear right now than they were this morning.

If my first post’s general sense was that McCain had made a strong move, this one is going in the opposite direction. My indecision isn’t surprising: This is a huge gamble and we will have to see how Palin performs in the months ahead, what coverage she receives and whether she can move the female vote before having a better idea of how her presence on the Republican ticket will play out.

I pointed out this morning that the problem McCain faced was that most of his unconventional choices (Lieberman, Hutchinson) were in some sense unacceptable to the base. That made Palin attractive: a maverick and a conservative. But there was someone else with similar attributes (diversity, youth, conservatism, outsider), Louisiana Bobby Jindal, someone with a far thicker resume though not thick enough that he would not face experience questions of his own. That McCain chose Palin over Jindal shows just how big of a risk he is taking experience-wise and certainly suggests that his campaign is banking a lot on Palin’s gender.

Conservative enthusiasm: For now, most everyone remains happy. Democrats see Palin as a cross between Spiro Agnew, Geraldine Ferraro and Dan Quayle; many Republicans are excited because she is a game changer that can energize the base, distance McCain from the establishment and appeal to female voters. And conservatives are happy because Palin is one of them; not only is she pro-life, but she opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, she favors the teaching of intelligent design and perhaps does not believe in evolution, she does not think that global warming is man-made, and initial reports that she favored gay rights might have been overstated.

This conservative enthusiasm could be very important. McCain has had trouble motivating his base, but if conservatives, Rush Limbaugh and the National Review now become enthusiastic about the ticket, it could have an important impact on November turnout.

Experience: Yet, and perhaps this is due to the fact that those Republicans who did not get the nod appear to be pissed, there seems to be a lot of worry in GOP circles that Palin’s choice will not do, confusion as to how they are to defend her qualifications and anxiety that this nullifies McCain’s best argument. This pessimism has become more visible as the day has gone by, perhaps because the first wave of introductory bios (starting with Ron Fournier’s analysis or the New York Times’ recap) discusses her inexperience more directly than I would have anticipated.

Democrats started pounding Palin’s thin resume as soon as she was announced, even explicitly raising the issue of McCain’s age. Democrats seem to believe that they now have an opening to hint at the age question by talking about the “heartbeat.” Rep. Wexler of Florida, for instance, accused McCain of being a “complete and utter hypocrite:”

Americans should be alarmed that the former mayor of a town of 9,000 people with zero foreign policy credentials could be a heartbeat away from assuming the role of Commander in Chief.

Yes, it is unlikely that Republican-leaning voters who are afraid that Palin is unexperienced will suddenly run to Obama because of that. But what about voters who were moving towards McCain over the past few weeks because they were starting to believe in his attacks that Obama is “dangerously not ready to lead?” That, after all, had become somewhat of a slogan for the GOP.

If voters do come to think about experience as McCain has pushed them to for weeks now, will they be comfortable enough with Palin to hold Obama’s inexperience against him? And if they do not think about experience, does McCain stand any chance? This could also lead voters to question McCain’s judgment. If he truly believes that Obama is “dangerously not ready to lead,” as his commercials have said all summer, why would he pick Palin? New reports that McCain only met Palin once six months ago and talked to her on the phone once before offering her the VP position will only exacerbate the dubious coverage.

There is another experience-related risk for the McCain campaign: What if voters don’t even think of Obama and Palin as having the same level of experience? That could make Obama look better in comparison, and raise worries about McCain’s age. The GOP’s main argument to prevent that from happening is a good one: Palin is the only candidate with any candidate of executive experience, and this is something voters will care about. But there is also a lot that could make voters think of Palin as underqualified.

It’s not just that she has no foreign policy experience, but she has little foreign policy opinion, having even admitted that she hadn’t thought much about Iraq until the beginning of 2007. Beyond the question of how she will perform against Biden, how will voters react to not knowing where she stands on a lot of issues? Palin has been governor for 1,5 years and was the mayor of a tiny town before that (just recently, Rove blasted Kaine as a possible VP pick for only having been the mayor of Richmond before Governor of Virginia). Obama was a state Senator for eight years, representing around 210,000 voters - that’s about a third of the population of Alaska.

Was the McCain campaign so blinded by its disdain for Obama that they simply assumed that voters already thought of him as blatantly unqualified? McCain was supposed to relentlessly attack Obama’s inexperience next week. Will he still do that? Here is McCain’s defense of Palin’s qualifications today:

“I don’t think it’s a short resume,” McCain said. “She first ran for office back in 1992. I don’t know what Senator Obama was doing then, but the first time she ran was 1992. That’s 16 years. I think that’s a pretty, pretty event-filled and record-filled resume.”

Interjects Gov. Palin: “I haven’t had too many years other than that to fill up yet.”

So does she feel ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency? “Absolutely. Yup, yup. Especially with a good team around us.”

In 1992, Obama had just become a law lecturer at the University of Chicago. That might not be political experience, but McCain should be careful to not dismiss Obama’s credentials too quickly, for he might then be moved to overstate Palin’s.

Ethics: A second issue is “troopergate,” Palin’s very own ethical problem. She is under investigation over the firing of a state commissioner who alleged that she was pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law. The investigation was just launched last month, and while McCain surely vetted Palin over this, how much can an investigation that is just getting under way be vetted? The press is making more of this than I assumed they would from the get go. The Anchorage Daily News devotes one of the pieces on its front page to a lengthy explanation of this affair; so does the New York Times. And don’t forget that Stevens’s trial will take place starting in late September and the verdict will be handed down before the election. There will be plenty of opportunity for the press to revisit Alaska’s ethics problems.

Buchanan: A third potential problem is one that is much smaller, but I mentioning it because I was not aware of this earlier today. Palin was a supporter of Pat Buchanan’s 1996 presidential bid (said Buchanan himself today, calling Palin a “brigader”) and she did reportedly did so again in 1999. Needless to say that any connection with Buchanan could be deadly for Palin’s popularity among Jewish voters, especially among the South Florida Jews who reportedly have a deep mistrust for Obama. In a second statement, Wexler (who was on a roll today) wasted no time before seizing this opportunity:

John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans. Pat Buchanan is a Nazi sympathizer… John McCain has failed his first test of leadership and judgment by selecting a running mate who has aligned herself with a leading anti-Israel voice in American politics.

That said, the two Republicans’ first joint appearance should dispel any Democratic triumphalism. For one, the crowd was as energetic as we have seen during McCain’s prior major speeches. There might be an enthusiasm gap in the electorate, but not every McCain event will be as disastrous as his June 3rd speech. Second, Sarah Palin’s speech was solid, as she demonstrated she is a good speaker that can come across as likable and that she has the potential of being a strong boost to McCain on the stump.

Gender: And then, there is the issue of gender. This is the big question mark, the topic everyone is talking about today without knowing how it will play out. This could also save Palin on the experience front. If women think that the press and Democrats are guilty of sexism by holding Palin to be less experienced than Obama or questioning her qualifications more than they are her male opponent’s, it could certainly backfire. We have had numerous examples throughout this election year of a candidate coming under attack increasing the strength of identity politics - it helped Hillary at the New Hampshire debate and Barack at the South Carolina debate.

As soon as we learned that Palin was the choice, it became obvious that Republicans were looking to seize the opportunity of the extended Democratic primary to make a play for the female vote. For anyone who has any doubts about that, Palin’s speech ought to have dispelled them. Not only did she name Geraldine Ferraro, the first and only female vice-presidential candidate on a major ticket and now the most high-profile Clinton supporter who refuses to endorse Obama - but she went on to offer soaring praise for Hillary’s ground-breaking candidacy. Palin presented herself as Clinton’s heir, as if the feminist baton had been passed from the New York Senator to her:

It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. We can shatter that glass ceiling once more.

Not much subtlety there, is there? In fact, you might remember that Hillary did not give that openly a feminist speech until the day she dropped out - but Palin is going there in her very first address as a VP candidate, appealing to women as a woman more explicitly than Clinton ever did. Yet, at a Women’s Leadership conference a few months ago, Palin said Clinton was not helping woman by playing the gender card during her campaign. (Palin also said that it was not “helpful” for Clinton to claim (”whine”) that she was the victim of sexism, and while Palin’s tone was respectful and not vitriolic.)

But the McCain campaign seems convinced that the Democrats’ rift is serious enough that the GOP has a serious shot at picking up Hillary supporters and undecided female voters. Palin’s direct mention of Clinton - a figure Republicans have often demonized - was particularly shrewd, and it will be interesting to see how often Republicans speakers refer to Clinton next week and whether the audience of conservative delegates agrees to cheer her name.

Democrats are saying that Palin’s strong pro-life stance (which places to the right of McCain) will not give her any appeal among suburban women or Clinton voters. Wexler’s statement made that point particularly strongly: “Sarah Palin is a far right, pro-life zealot who can not hold a candle to Hillary Clinton’s lifelong fight to better the lives of women everywhere.” And women’s rights groups are already mobilizing against Palin’s record. But this would first imply that female voters come to know about her exact stance on abortion. Considering that many swing voters do not know that McCain is pro-life and that Democrats are notoriously weary of tackling the topic too directly, will Palin’s stance really come through? Hillary would be best equipped to inform voters of Palin’s stance on abortion, for instance.

Republicans are surely not naive enough to think that picking a female vice-president will be enough to get women to massively vote for McCain. But there is no doubt whatsoever that there is a significant fraction of Clinton voters who have yet to fully commit to Obama. As of last week-end, some polls found Obama getting somewhere between 50% and 65% of Clinton voters. The Democratic convention, the display of party unity, Hillary and Bill’s speeches were meant to address that. All the Palin pick is meant to do is convince the Clinton voters and those women voters who have a tenuous link to the Democratic Party to keep an open mind, stay on the fence and not be moved by the Democratic convention to commit to Obama. If Palin can help keep Obama at 60% of the Clinton vote - where he was last week - the GOP would feel very good.

It’s Palin!

Talk about a gamble! This is the type of pick whose impact will not be measured for a while. This is the type of pick that comes with great potential but is fraught with risk. It could be a game-changer (and it certainly has the potential to work out brilliantly) or it could turn out to be a nightmare. But one thing is certain: If you are of the school of thought (like I am) that John McCain needed to shake things up to have a chance at toppling Barack Obama, he certainly delivered.

Sarah Palin’s name had always been mentioned in the veepstakes, so she is certainly not a complete surprise. Yet, no one seemed to believe McCain would actually go through with it. His campaign seems to have realized that Palin’s downsides might not be as significant when compared to those of the rest of McCain’s short list. Much of the media will discover Sarah Palin at the same time as the average voter, meaning that she will benefit from an upbeat, overwhelmingly positive coverage that will steal Obama’s thunder just hours after the Democratic convention.

And half-a-day after Obama became the first African-American to head a major party ticket, McCain ensured that the Republican ticket also breaks new ground and ensured that, whoever wins in November, the winning ticket will not consist of two white men for the very first time in American history.

Choosing Palin allows McCain to portray himself as a different sort of Republican, one who does not fit the party’s image as old white male patricians. Not just because of her gender, but because of her background - it puts a new face on the GOP and it could be more difficult for Democrats to attack Republicans as out of touch and owning too many houses. Change is Obama’s slogan, but McCain will now be a bit more convincing in his argument that he, too, wants to change Washington; that he, too, realizes that the Bush Administration has corrupted the Republican establishment and that he was willing to quite literally look away - far away - from DC to find a partner to implement reforms.

Palin’s outsider image will be especially strong when contrasted to Joe Biden’s, a Washington insider who has been in the Senate for more than half of his life. Of course, this could backfire for Republicans (more on the downsides below) but at least in the short term it sets up McCain as the unconventional change agent while casting Obama as the more predictable politician.

With Palin, McCain is not only claiming that he is not a Bush Republican, but that he will clean up after Bush Republicans. Expect to her a lot in the coming days about Palin’s campaign against Alaska’s Republican establishment (I wrote about Palin’s take-over of the state party two weeks ago). She defeated an incumbent Governor plagued by scandals in 2006 and endorsed Sean Parnell against another Don Young, another politician hit by corruption scandals. As Governor of Alaska, she passed an ethics reform (which will surely be invoked as one of her main accomplishments, an interesting parallel to Obama). In other words, the McCain campaign will use Palin’s work in Alaska as a - clean up.

The reason Palin’s pick could end up looking brilliant is that she combines this outsider reformist image with very conservative credentials. She allows McCain to look like more of a maverick while moving him to the right. Most of McCain’s other unconventional picks - whether Joe Lieberman, Tom Ridge or even Kay Bailey Hutchinson - would have infuriated the Right. Some might even have triggered a walk-out on the convention floor. But Palin has no such problem. In Alaska, she and Parnell have positioned themselves to the right of Stevens and Young - more fiscally disciplined. She is strongly pro-life. She has a lifetime membership to the NRA. The National Review’s The Corner is celebrating, as are other conservatives.

Palin will also focus the general election on energy issues - something McCain has been hitting on for months and that the GOP has sought to make its defining issues. ANWR is a big issue for Palin (as with any Alaska politician), and while McCain opposes drilling in ANWR he has made drilling in general a major campaign issue. Expect a lot of that now that Palin is the VP pick.

And then there is the key matter of Sarah Palin’s gender. We will now know just how solid Obama’s hold on the female vote is and how convincing the Clintons were in their convention speeches. Sure, women have never automatically voted for a woman - it did not work for Walter Mondale in 1984 - nor have other types of identity politics been effective. But this is not a presidential year like any other. Obama defeated Hillary in the primaries. Some supporters say she was the victim of sexism; some lament that this was their last opportunity to see a female vice-president. Beyond Clinton supporters, undecided female voters - soccer moms, for instance - are always a key swing vote and Palin will help McCain appeal to them. But her opposition to abortion rights might undercut her appeal to suburban women who have been put off by the GOP’s social conservatism.

If the Democratic convention left any opening for the GOP to pick-up Clinton voters, the Palin choice is a good first step towards doing so. If independent women are not as committed to voting Democratic after eight years of Bush as some think they are, they could be drawn towards Palin. If this succeeds, Obama will have difficulty recovering. A Democrat cannot win without a big margin among female voters. Obama cannot win without strong support from Clinton Democrats.

And Palin’s last benefit - a small one, but 3 electoral votes are not negligible - is to close the door for Obama in Alaska. This is one of the 18 states Obama has been investing in, and he was leading in the latest poll. But Palin is very popular in the state (a recent poll had her at 80%) and that should all but ensure that McCain pulls through.

But there is an obvious, glaring, huge problem with Sarah Palin: experience. She has not finished her second term as Governor, and before that she was the Mayor of Wasilla, a small with less than 10,000 inhabitants. She has absolutely no exposure to foreign policy issues, nor any position on them. If voters buy that experience is important, they might be looking with special care towards McCain’s vice-president. That Palin will be a heartbeat away from the presidency will be especially significant given McCain’s age and prior health problems - and that’s exactly what the Obama campaign chose to emphasize in its immediate reaction:

Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency. Governor Palin shares John McCain’s commitment to overturning Roe v. Wade, the agenda of Big Oil and continuing George Bush’s failed economic policies — that’s not the change we need, it’s just more of the same.

This argument will not go very far when the Obama campaign makes it given that his own resume is not very long. But that is what is fascinating about the dynamics of this pick - it is McCain who is running on a platform of experience, and he has complicated his task of making this election about readiness and qualifications. Over the past few hours, Republicans have been daring Obama to attack Palin’s inexperience. But that is missing the point: Obama would be delighted not to attack Palin on that front as long as McCain cannot attack him on it either!

Sure, Palin will be running on the ticket’s second slot while Obama would be the President, but if McCain rips into Obama’s qualifications, how will he justify that Palin is ready to serve? Next Wednesday, Palin will stand at the GOP convention and deliver what VPs are meant to deliver - an attack on Obama. How will she be able to hit him on the main issue the GOP has been using? “Not ready to lead,” proclaim McCain’s ads. If Palin attempts to say anything of the sort, it will sound laughable.

This is surely what the Obama campaign must be smiling about today: By choosing Palin, McCain moved on the Democrat’s terrain, seeking to seize the mantle of change rather than attack Obama on experience. In a sense, Obama did the same thing last week when he beefed up his ticket’s experience, in some way accepting the GOP’s criticism. But in 2008 the burden is on Republicans to make this election about experience and question Obama’s qualification, not on Obama to make this election about change.

Also, Palin faces some ethics issues of her own - and this could come back to disrupt the Republican ticket in the coming weeks. She is currently under investigation for pressuring for pressuring an Alaska commissioner to fire a state trooper who is involved in a divorce with her sister. She has denied any wrongdoing, but the media is sure to focus on that story much than it had up until now, and if there is anything to discover there, it could come back to haunt the GOP. Given that this has long been in the public domain, you have got to think that the McCain campaign’s vetting process looked at this.

All of this is a discussion of how Palin looks on paper. Then, there is the practice. And this is where Republicans have got to be nervous. Palin has not been exposed to the national stage before; she surely has not had to develop extensive talking-points and strong positions on a whole array of issues. In a brutal campaign trail in which every moment will be seen over and over again, in which every gaffe will be magnified and every awkward silence could be devastating, there is simply no way of knowing how Palin will perform. The McCain campaign has observed her enough to have some confidence that she can pull off a rapid and unexpected transition to the national stage, but VP picks have come up as unqualified (Don Quayle) or weak campaigners (Lieberman) before.

All of this will come to a boil in the vice-presidential debate against Joe Biden. Will Palin look qualified enough? If she performs too poorly or Biden wins the night, will there be a backlash among female voters? Will Biden go from knowledgeable to mean? Will Palin exceed expectations, or will she have too many mistakes to pass the test? Will any of this even matter?

There are a lot of question marks surrounding the Palin pick, much more than they were with Joe Biden, much more than they would have been with Romney or Pawlenty. That is a big risk for McCain to take. But this year, with this electoral map and the electorate’s mood, a big risk is what McCain needed.

In historic fourth night, Obama stood as a proud Democrat, delivered the speech he needed

For weeks, the GOP has been attacking Barack Obama for being a vapid celebrity. But you certainly can’t accuse the Obama campaign of being scared away from its game plan. As pundits moaned and Republicans mocked, Democrats stood their ground, moved Obama’s speech to a giant auditorium that they succeeded in filling to full capacity and taunted their opponents with pictures of Greek columns.

And when Barack Obama took the stage, he put behind him three nights of often (though certainly not always) dull proceedings and managed to combine in one solid speech the often contradictory goals that were expected of him - he fired up his base and reached out to independents, attacked George Bush and John McCain more directly and more relentlessly than most people expected but stayed true to his talk of unity, presented an overarching narrative of change while finally getting down to specifics.

This might not have been the best speech of Obama’s career. It did not awake the same emotion in viewers than some of his past addresses sparked, nor did it soar to heights of rhetoric. But that was not Obama’s intention tonight, nor should it have been. His dual challenge was first to remind voters that John McCain belongs to the party of George W. Bush and second to put some meat on his slogan of change. Wednesday’s speakers had started the former task - but they had neither the time nor the media coverage to complete it; and they had vouched for Obama’s experience and qualifications more than the substantiveness of platform.

Tonight, Obama delivered on both front. His speech did go in many directions at once, but it weaved the different themes together. If nothing else, it allowed Democrats to regain optimism and go back on the offense after weeks of declining poll numbers.

By the time Barack took the stage, a lengthy video shown on all network channels had painted him as an average Joe, a candidate embodying the American Dream who was raised by a family that resembled that of “you,” the average viewer. That is the story that we have been hearing for days now, starting with Michelle’s speech on Monday. Obama was all set to conclude the two other tasks - attack and substance.

Let’s start with the latter. We knew that Obama was aware voters wanted to know what this “change” and “hope” meant, and he tackled that quite literally today. “Let me spell out exactly what that change would mean,” he said.

When running against a GOP Senator weighed down by his party’s unpopularity, the specifics of change are very simple - replace a Republican political philosophy with a Democratic one that uses government to solve some of the country’s pressing problems. That was one of the main themes of Bill Clinton’s speech last night.

But that argument does not necessarily fit with Obama’s usual focus on post-partisanship: One of his main arguments during the primary campaign was to lump Clinton’s presidency alongside that of Bush as the “old politics” Obama was running to overcome. In the past, Obama’s “change” had not meant ideological change or the change of one party for another; it had been a promise to change the process.

Tonight, four years after his keynote address at the last convention, we saw a different Obama, one that presented himself as a partisan Democrat and tweaked the definition of change he had embraced for the past four years to fit the circumstances of the the current political climate and of the general election. If we were to assess the speech’s intellectual merits, this inconsistency was probably its biggest weakness - but it was not one that is likely to cause much trouble.

Standing as a proud Democrat - a posture he has not always put at the center of his political identity - Obama called upon the country’s Democratic voters to write a new chapter to the party’s history. Obama’s targets tonight were not swing voters or Republicans. Rather, Obama was talking to conservative-leaning Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who might be considering voting for John McCain but who ultimately would be happy to be identified with the party of Roosevelt and Kennedy, whom Obama invoked.

Not only did Obama call on these voters loyalty to the Democracy Party, he appealed to their commitment to New Deal ideology by pledging to turn away from the conservatism that has dominated the country since the 1980s. After Obama described at length what he saw as the country’s dreadful state, he put it all not only at Bush’s doorstep but at the doorstep of Reaganomics - a significant move given that Obama got in trouble in his primaries for praising Reagan a few months back:

For over two decades, [McCain]’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.

Obama outlined a list of policies taken out of his party’s playbook in a lengthy issue-by-issue run-down that reminded me of Al Gore’s acceptance speech in 2000 (one of the most successful conventions of recent elections): No tax cuts to companies that ship jobs oversees, renewable energies, governmental support for early childhood education, higher income for teachers, no over-reliance on drilling, universal (though not single-payer) health care, equal pay and reform of the bankruptcy laws.

This is not to say that he consistently stood as a defender of a liberal political philosophy. Obama also insisted that he would reduce taxes, talked about individual responsibility, reducing unwanted pregnancies, protecting gun rights; he announced that he would cut government programs and making bureaucracy more efficient - all talking points that will certainly please conservative-minded voters.

Such centrist platforms are at the center of Obama’s political identity and they have always been. But tonight, Obama added a new sense of pride for his Democratic roots.

That is a winning recipe for a convention speech, particularly in 2008. With independent voters behaving like Democrats in their disapproval of President Bush, Obama’s best bet is to run as a generic Democratic alternative to the Bush Administration, and he played up by that contrast by going on the attack.

By mocking John McCain’s bid to look like a change agent while belonging to Bush’s party, Obama did what the past few Democratic presidential nominees had shied away from: attack Republicans frontally.

Many expected the duties of the attack dog to be reserved to the likes of Biden and Clinton, but it is Obama who took on the role with the most determination. He clarified the stakes of this election: a referendum on Bush’s America. “They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more,” Bill Clinton had said yesterday. Today, Obama sounded the same theme:

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this… Enough! This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: “Eight is enough.”

Obama continued by taking on his opponent, repeatedly calling him out by name - a stark contrast to Kerry’s acceptance speech four years ago. He attacked McCain’s association with Bush as evidence that the Arizona Senator would be a typical Republican: “The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives – on health care and education and the economy – Senator McCain has been anything but independent.”

And Obama detailed his accusation issue after issue. He did not shy away from drawing clear contrasts, for instance on the Iraq War and on his refusal of a timetable. “John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war,” he said. One of his harshest line came soon after: “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell, but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.” In an attack one seldom associates with a Democrat, Obama concluded, “That won’t keep America safe.” “If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice,” he added.

On economic issues, Obama invoked some of McCain’s gaffes about which Democrats have been salivating for months. He hit Phil Gramm’s “nation of whiners” statement, as well as McCain’s declaration that the rich are those who make $5 million and more. Obama portrayed his opponent as out-of-touch, a theme the party has been hinting it for the past few weeks. “Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans,” Obama said. ” I just think he doesn’t know.”

But Obama’s best moments came when he was playing defense, because he managed to turn the tables and go right back on the offense. Obama did not simply defend his American roots and he did not just pledge patriotism; rather, he transformed such defensive moves into vigorous attacks that undercut Republican talking points. He linked McCain’s attacks on Obama’s character to the GOP’s need to distract voters from their connection to Bush. (”If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from,” he said.) And in what was one of Obama’s most effective lines, he turned McCain’s “Country First” slogan against the Republican by getting the crowd to chant USA and proclaiming, “I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.”

This might not have been the best speech of Obama’s career, nor was this week the perfect convention for Democrats. But Obama - following Bill Clinton and John Kerry yesterday - did what he to do. He put the burden on Republicans to disqualify him without looking like they are attempting to do what Obama mocked today; he dared them to try and stand for change while running for Republicans.

We’ll see next week whether the McCain campaign is up to the task.

Thursday polls: Flurry of down-the-ballot polls find Prop 8 failing, tight race in FL-21

The day’s most noticeable polling news is no doubt Gallup’s tracking poll that shows a 5% bounce in Obama’s favor - 8% over two days. He is ahead 48% to 42% in what is the first Gallup tracking taken entirely this week (though the Monday night interviews were mostly conducted prior to the primetime speeches). This bounce might be due to Hillary’s speech, which received an overwhelmingly positive reception according to Gallup.

That said, the Gallup tracking is for now more important for the way it will influence the convention’s coverage than for what it says about the direction of the race. A one day evolution of a tracking poll is not worth getting excited about, especially because this bounce is due as much to Saturday/Sunday interviews getting out of the 3-day total (McCain had good nights over the week-end, after Hillary supporters realized she would not be the VP) as to anything that has happened in Denver. A bounce will have to be measured by its stability over a few days and Rasmussen’s tracking is not showing much movement. Meanwhile, in state polls:

  • In California, a PPIC poll taken in mid-August (the 12th to the 19th) finds Obama losing ground, up 47% to 38%. One interesting number is that Obama gets 71% of the Hispanic vote - enough to put to rest talk of any problem he might have with the Latino vote.
  • In Colorado (polling history), a poll conducted by a Republican firm (Hill Research Consultants) for the Senate campaign of Bob Schaffer finds Obama narrowly ahead of McCain, 43% to 40%.
  • In Idaho, a poll taken by Greg Smith and Associates finds McCain crushing Obama, 52% to 29%.
  • A SUSA poll tested the Obama-McCain race in a South Florida district (FL-21) as part of a House poll (see below for the congressional numbers). Bush won here by 14% in 2004, but the race is now tied at 48%- quite a swing towards Democrats. The Cuban vote, however, remains solidly anchored in the GOP column (72% for the Arizona Senator).

There was some discussion this year about Democrats making inroads in the Cuban vote and McCain progressing among Latinos. Neither development is taking place according to these California and FL-21 polls, which should bring relief to the GOP for its Florida prospects and to Democrats for their chances in the Southwest.

Needless to say that Obama cannot afford seeing his margin shrink further than a high single-digit lead in California. Given the state’s importance, Obama cannot afford to give McCain any opening - but having to advertise in the Golden State would be very expensive. For now, Obama doesn’t have much to worry about. This is the 7th summer poll from California, and the first to have him in single-digits.

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

  • In FL-21, SUSA finds a tight race, with Democratic challenger Raul Martinez narrowly lead GOP incumbent Lincoln Diaz-Balart, 48% to 46%. Here is the interesting part: 20% of respondents opted to conduct the survey in Spanish, and among them the incumbent was leading 2:1. Indeed, a third of respondents were Cuban and the Republican got 70% of their vote. SUSA warns that surveys might be under-representing non-English speakers, thus understating GOP support.
  • In FL-13, an internal poll taken for Republican incumbent Vern Buchanan finds him crushing his 2006 competitor, Christine Jennings - 48% to 30%.
  • In PA-10, an internal poll released by the Carney campaign finds the incumbent Democrat leading Chris Hackett 54% to 27%. This comes two days after an independent SUSA poll found a tight race, with the Democrat ahead 49% to 45%.
  • In the Colorado Senate race (polling history) the internal Republican poll mentioned above finds Mark Udall narrowly ahead of Bob Schaffer, 41% to 38%. Both candidates’ unfavorability ratings has shot up since the April poll - 33% and 34% compared to 15% and 18% four months ago.
  • In the Idaho Senate race, a poll taken by Greg Smith and Associates finds Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch leading Larry LaRocco 41% to 30%.
  • PPIC’s poll of California finds that Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage is failing, with 54% of respondents planning to vote “no” and 40% “yes.” A parental notification proposition is much narrower, with 47% planning to vote yes versus 44%.

A lot of interesting numbers today, starting with the internal polls from PA-10 and FL-13. This is why internal polls have to be taken with a grain of salt - there is a 23% difference between Carney’s survey and SUSA’s numbers. But notice that there is only a 5% difference between Carney’s percentage in both of these polls, which is what we should take away here: Carney is slightly ahead, but he is also hovering around 50%. The same is true of FL-13, where the race leans towards Buchanan (despite the fact that Jennings might very well have won in 2006) but an independent poll might find different results.

As for FL-21, it features a furious party for the control of South Florida, along with FL-18 and FL-25. Demographic changes in the region are putting all these seats in play and Democrats have already reserved plenty of time in the South Miami media market. This is now the second poll to find Lincoln Diaz-Balart in a difficult position. A Bendixen poll released in early July had him leading 41% to 37%. It is interesting that Democrats have managed to put this in play despite the fact that the GOP retains strong support among the Cuban community.

With week-long teases, McCain stays in spotlight [Updated with latest ad]

You’ve got to hand it to the McCain campaign: They have been very efficient at staying in the media spotlight in a week that was supposed to belong to Barack Obama.

Their favorite weapon has predictably been the veepstake tease. We have long known that John McCain would announce his pick the Friday following Obama’s acceptance speech (tomorrow) - and the campaign has been brilliantly played its hand throughout this past week to keep the press occupied covering Republicans and the McCain campaign. And in this Thursday afternoon, the tease and slow hints are continuing to come.

For days now, the Joe Lieberman saga has kept reporters on their toes. The Lieberman pick would justifiably be considered an unconventional gamble, and that possibility is understandably generating more stories than McCain would have received if only the names of Romney or Pawlenty were floated - how would conservatives react? what would it mean to moderates? to Democratic activists? The story gained in dramatic value last night, when it was revealed that Karl Rove had contacted Joe Lieberman to ask him to withdraw his name from consideration.

The conservative blogosphere is in a frenzy (just as liberal activists would have been livid if Chuck Hagel or Dick Lugar’s names had been in the very short list in the final hours of VP speculation), pointing out that Lieberman remains closer to Democrats on issues other than the war. For instance, The Hill quotes Chris Dodd today who points out that Lieberman has donated more than $200,000 to the DSCC over the past two years.

Besides the Lieberman rumors, the last minute speculations are parallel to the VP madness we experienced last week. The Bayh/Kaine/Biden trio has been replaced with the Lieberman/Romney/Pawlenty one, with people invoking tea leaves left and right that would seem to indicate that one of those three is the pick. Instead of Biden’s Georgia trip and the Obama/Bayh signs being printed in Nashville, we now have reports that Romney’s sister house has been subjected to a Secret Service sweep or the news that Pawlenty has canceled all his interviews today and tomorrow. And just like Chet Edwards’s last minute appearance in the Democratic veepstakes, we have a list of dark horses whose names is popping up, starting with Texas Senator Kay Hutchinson or even Meg Whitman and Sarah Palin. Even Tom Ridge is back in speculation.

In fact, McCain is now upping the stakes by threatening to steal some of the attention away from Denver by leaking the news of his pick in the coming hours. With a rally planned tomorrow at 11am in Dayton, Ohio, it is as inescapable that McCain’s pick leaks sometime tonight. After all, CNN managed to break the Biden story last week 12 hours before the Democratic ticket’s first appearance. But if the GOP were to leak the information before Obama’s acceptance speech tonight (as Drudge is now trumpeting they will), it would make for a split-screen night on cable shows and split front-page headlines in tomorrow’s papers.

This strategy would have obvious advantages and drawbacks for the GOP. On the one hand, they would distract from Obama’s speech; on the other, they would give up on the breathless coverage that accompanied the Democrats’ veep roll-out last week, putting the story on the back-page of tomorrow’s papers and making it old news by tomorrow. Overall, the risk seem to outweigh the benefits, as Obama’s speech will get covered no matter what and as viewers will tune in at 10pm to listen to him no matter what. Also, Obama would be able to insert a few sentences about McCain’s pick, introducing him to voters before the GOP has a chance to do so.

Of course, McCain has been using other means (again, very effectively) to get some of the spotlight. Practically every day since Obama announced he was picking Joe Biden, the Republican’s campaign has released ads meant to attract attention and influence the coverage. But it was soon obvious that none of these ads had any money put behind them. I myself posted an entire post on the three ads McCain released to drive a wedge between Obama and Clinton, though I did not evoke the others ads his campaign unveiled since they were essentially video press releases.

Yesterday came a particularly vicious spot, accusing Obama of minimizing the threat posed by Iran and thus abandoning Israel by having called Iran a “tiny” country (the quote the ad was referring to was in fact a comparative statement in which Obama said Iran was tiny in comparison to the Soviet Union). That ad coincided with the Democrats’ national security night - just as the Clinton ads coincided with the part of the convention that was meant to highlight party unity. Today, however, it looks like the McCain campaign might have an actual ad buy planned, as Politico’s Mike Allen reports that the campaign will air an ad in battleground states at the time of Obama’s pick in which McCain would speak to the camera, directly talking to Obama.

This morning, a McCain spokesperson tried to make the ad as much of an event as tonight’s speech by calling it “historic” and “first of its kind” - the type of description that is being reserved for Obama’s nomination and his first address as the party’s nominee tonight. It might seem over-the-top, but it has worked for Republicans for much of the past week.

Update: Well, the “historic” ad is here. The campaign has said this will air in battleground state around the time of Obama’s speech, though the exact size of the buy remains unclear. After more than a month of head-on character attacks and after a week in which he accused Obama of being “dangerously” inexperienced, McCain seems to think it important to “congratulate” Obama for his nomination in an ad meant to reclaim the higher ground and restore McCain’s image as a positive campaigner (a series of polls have shown that the electorate thinks McCain has gone more negative than Obama):

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4KIvRTg6KQ"]

“How perfect that the nomination would come on this historic day,” says McCain in a reference to the anniversary of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech. Given the GOP spin that Obama is arrogant and behaving like an “emperor” (in Pawlently’s words), you be the judge as to whether that sentence is meant to be sarcastic - but that ambivalence might be the point, amusing partisan Republicans who might see it as derision while also appealing to independents.

Alaska chaos: No resolution in sight in House primary, Stevens stand firm

Who knew we would be talking about Alaska this much this year?

Not only is Barack Obama seriously contesting this red state (and was even leading in the most recent poll) but the state’s Senate and House races are among the year’s most chaotic. And just as the Senate race found some order with Ted Stevens winning his party’s nomination on Tuesday, the House contest has sank into complete confusion. All of this, of course, has Democrats salivating.

The House primary was held on Tuesday and it pitted two high-profile Republicans: incumbent Republican Don Young and Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell. Among the many narratives hidden behind that headline was the Club for Growth’s influence, Sarah Palin’s takeover of the state party, a generational battle and corruption scandals. But two days after the voting, we still don’t know who won. With all precincts but a 63-person village reporting, Young is ahead by 152 votes (0.16%).

But there is much more. In fact, there are thousands of absentee ballots and thousands of provisional ballots that are yet to be counted! It seems that only half of the 7600 absentee ballots that arrived by Election Day have been counted, and officials say that as many as 8,000 more can still come in (a ballot has to be postmarked by Election Day, and can come in within 10 days of the Election)! Furthermore, officials are saying that there are at least 5,000 “questioned” ballots which will have to be reviewed - and perhaps be counted if they were disqualified or disqualified if they were counted. And then there is the small matter of two towns that ran out of ballots, forcing voters to use sample ballots that have yet to be counted (257 total).

In other words, Young’s 152-vote lead doesn’t look like much with thousands of ballots still to be counted. You would think that under these circumstances, election officials would hurry to get an exact count. This is a primary, after all, not a general election. But absentee ballots will not start being counted until September 5th (which is the deadline at which absentee ballots have to be in), provisional ballots until September 8th and any dispute could drag on until September 17th when the winner should be certified!

It is really beyond me why they can’t speed the process out - at least count all the absentee/questionable ballots that are already in before September 5th - but the result is that Alaska Republicans will not know who their candidate is for two more weeks. And if the winner is within half-a point, he will be able to ask for a recount - further delaying the primary’s resolution. At the end of the day, Parnell or Young will have far less than two months to campaign in the general election and unify the part. And they are wasting their most precious weeks: starting in late September, Alaska papers will cover the Stevens trial, making it harder for other political stories to break through.

Democratic candidate Ethan Berkowitz a clear head-start and the state GOP will likely remain divided all the way to the election. The DCCC and the Berkowitz campaign are of course hoping for Young to prevail, but they also have got to feel better about their chances against Parnell at this point.

As for the Senate race, the picture is getting much clearer. Ted Stevens’ nomination on Tuesday still left the question mark of whether state Republicans would manage to convince him to drop out and replace him with a candidate who isn’t facing a corruption trial in the month before the election! Over the past month, Stevens had shown no sign that he would ever agree to give up his seat, and this combative interview in the Anchorage Daily News should remove any doubt:

Q. You’ve appeared very relaxed in light of what’s going on … you won’t even entertain the option of stepping down?

A. You guys always ask that question. Lets put that down. That will never happen, ever.

I am not stepping down. I am going to run through, I’m going to win this election. The election is my goal right now. The court case going to go on. Whether it’s finished or not, I’m still going to run for re-election.

Stevens’ main argument will be to dismiss Begich as too liberal for the state, saying that the state’s Republican voters “are certainly not going to support someone who supports Sen. Obama.” But Stevens will have a hard time with that argument considering Obama is looking much stronger than anyone anticipated and that he will spend the last weeks of his campaign in Washington instead of campaigning.

Reassured that the general election will indeed oppose Ted Stevens to Mark Begich, Democrats surely feel much better about their chances to score a pick-up here. Now, they have to wait hoping that Don Young joins them on the general election ballot.

Third night: Clinton, Kerry and Biden vent Democratic anger, vouch for Obama

In the convention’s first two nights, the tone was often flat. Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton performed beautifully, but too many of the other primetime speakers let John McCain go unscathed - continuing a strange pattern the Republican benefited from in the GOP’s primary debates. But in a night that started with some great visuals and that officially nominated Barack Obama in a show of unity, the Democratic speakers weaved together the convention’s different themes.

In a memorable night, Bill Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Biden energized the Democratic Party and electrified the crowd by vouching for Barack Obama’s character, his national security credentials - and they also found time to finally blast the Republican Party and John McCain. Sure, none offered the type of blistering character attacks that Zell Miller delivered four years ago, but they absolutely did not to need to.

Together, the three men delivered what Democrats had been waiting for years and what Kerry’s convention had denied them in 2004: an indictment of the Republican Party, of the Bush Administration and of McCain’s party label. Together, they mentioned torture, Iraq, global warming and the tax cuts for the wealthy. They allowed Democrats to vent their frustration and transfer that anger to urgent support for Barack Obama - an urgency that had Hillary Clinton had started to express in her Tuesday night address.

The one thing that could perhaps have been stronger was the length of Biden’s speech - surely the most watched of the night’s addresses. Biden had the crowd behind him as he lamented the Republicans’ economic record and questioned McCain’s judgment. But his speech was relatively short compared to other speakers, and it is hard to escape the impression that it could have gone a bit longer. He almost seemed to cut it off as the crowd was getting into it when he could have taken the crescendo a bit further.

Had all viewers seen John Kerry’s speech (which I thought was the night’s strongest), Biden might not have had to take it a few more steps. But it is a true shame for Democrats that not even the cable channels did not show Kerry in his entirety. You would think that CNN, MSNBC and Fox would realize that the speech of the 2004 Democratic nominee would be more important than their commentary on Bill Clinton’s address, but they only ended up showing the final minutes. One could sense Kerry’s excitement at finally being able to express everything he had been waiting to get out since his failed candidacy. When Kerry spoke of the Republicans’ “pathetic” attacks on a Obama’s patriotism, it was also the wounds of his own defeat that he revisited.

His attacks on John McCain were as extensive as they were precise, as Kerry turned the flip-flopping accusations he received in 2004 on their head. By reciting issues on which candidate McCain and Senator McCain disagreed, Kerry sought to portray McCain as a typical Republican voters must reject - not the independent voice he claims to be. “More of the same,” Kerry repeated time after time in what has become the Democrats’ favorite anti-McCain slogan. “Before he ever debates Barack Obama, John McCain should finish the debate with himself,” he said. And in what was an explicit reference to his own campaign, Kerry scoffed, “Talk about being for it before you’re against it!”

For Kerry, this was a time to get revenge - and he took the hall’s Democrats with him. If a convention is an exercise in rallying the troops and set up the fall battle over undecided voters, John Kerry beat all expectations.

Just half an hour before, Bill Clinton had taken the stage, received by a standing ovation that seemed longer even to the one his wife had received the night before. Just like Hillary, Bill made a point of immediately proclaiming his support for Obama, adding “that makes 18 million of us.” And he went on to vouch for Obama’s national security credentials, insisting that he was ready to be commander-in-chief not only as a supporter of the Illinois Senator but also as a former president. Clinton framed this as a statesman passing the torch to another statesman.

Clinton was offering a direct response not only to the McCain campaign but also to the Clintons’ declaration throughout the spring. Said Bill towards the end of his speech, “Together, we prevailed in a campaign in which the Republicans said I was too young and too inexperienced to be Commander-in-Chief. Sound familiar? It didn’t work in 1992, because we were on the right side of history. And it won’t work in 2008, because Barack Obama is on the right side of history.”

Like most other speakers, Clinton focused on Bush’s governance and the bad choices the GOP had made. “They actually want us to reward them for the last eight years by giving them four more,” he said. “Let’s send them a message that will echo from the Rockies all across America: Thanks, but no thanks.” But Clinton’s argument went further to make a point few other speakers made - and that we don’t hear Obama talk about that often.

Most of the convention has been focused on Bush’s governance rather than on the overarching philosophy that supported it, but Clinton laid out the election as a clear ideological contrast. He argued that it is not just Bush who must be rejected but the Republicans’ political philosophy in general, that the past eight years were the most straight-forward expression of the conservatism that has overtaken the Republican Party. And denouncing the “extreme philosophy which has defined [McCain's] party for more than 25 years” was a powerful way to tie McCain to hisparty label.

As for Joe Biden, he lived up to the key promise of his vice-presidential pick: he is the rare politician who is just as comfortable on domestic issues as international issues and has the credentials to back up both. Tomorrow, Obama will offer his plan, detail his platform and explain to the American people why they should trust him. Tonight, Biden laid out the Democrats’ version of the choice facing voters, contrasting Barack Obama and John McCain both on the economy and on national security.

Biden’s central argument was: “These times require more than a good soldier; they require a wise leader, a leader who can deliver change.” Biden called himself a friend of John McCain, but he painted him as too eager a follower of Bushian politics, one who has shown that he would commit the same poor choices that have plagued the Bush Administration. Speaking about the economy, Biden highlighted his roots to talk directly to middle-class voters, claiming to understand their concerns and listing in an intimate and comforting voice the questions they ask themselves every night. “John thinks that during the Bush years “we’ve made great progress economically.” I think it’s been abysmal,” he said.

That’s the America that George Bush has left us, and that’s the future John McCain will give us. These are not isolated discussions among families down on their luck. These are common stories among middle-class people who worked hard and played by the rules on the promise that their tomorrows would be better than their yesterdays. That promise is the bedrock of America. It defines who we are as a people. And now it’s in jeopardy. I know it. You know it. But John McCain doesn’t get it.

On national security, Biden’s argument was the same Obama used against Clinton in the primaries - respond to the experience claim by invoking judgment to point out to the audience that not only has Obama always cared about America but he has been much more discerning about what its best interest is:

Whose judgment should we trust? Should we trust John McCain’s judgment when he said only three years ago, “Afghanistan—we don’t read about it anymore because it’s succeeded”? Or should we trust Barack Obama, who more than a year ago called for sending two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan?

John McCain was wrong, and Barack Obama was right — again, and again, and again, on the most important national security issues of our time, John McCain was wrong and Barack Obama has been proven right.

Democrats need to make this an election about party labels. Tying McCain to Bush might sound old at this point, but it is their best weapon - and one that could by itself get them across the finish line. That is why Mark Warner’s speech was so ineffective yesterday - and why giving either Schweitzer or Kerry that type of exposure could have helped Obama much more. Sure, all of these speakers could have gone further, attacked more and gotten the crowd even more fired up. But they did something that had just been started by Hillary last night and that the party was still yearning for- someone to rally the Democratic party, electrify it and channel its energy for its first presidential victory in twelve years.

Now, Barack Obama’s speech remains, and he will surely speak to undecided voters more than tonight’s speakers were attempting to. But even with those more moderate voters, tying McCain to Bush ought to be a powerful strategy. One of the most remarkable phenomenons of recent years has been that self-identified independents have been behaving like Democrats when asked about their opinion of Bush, and this distrust for the GOP among independents played a huge role in helping Democrats gain congressional majorities in 2006. There is a lot people will be watching for tomorrow, but Democrats should at least be reassured that tonight’s speakers laid a solid foundation.

Obama gets better polling day, leads in NM, NV and PA; mixed results in Florida

[Updated with lots and lots of late afternoon polls] It will take a few days to determine what impact if any the Democratic convention and Hillary’s speech has on her supporters - and it’s questionable whether we’ll ever have a clear answer given that this convention will immediately lead into the GOP veepstakes and the Republican convention, muddying any polling that will be done over the next ten days. But these surveys give us a clearer idea of the state of the race prior to this two week craziness, as all but the two trackings were taken before the start of the convention.

In particular, CNN just released a wave of polls from four key swing state. That means that today’s poll roundup includes a poll from each of the Big Three and a poll from each of the three Western battlegrounds! Quite a treat:

  • In Florida (polling history), Strategic Vision shows McCain up 49% to 42%; the institute’s prior poll had McCain leading by 8% in July, so the trend line isn’t as worrisome for Obama as the raw numbers.
  • Late update: In another poll from Florida, this one conducted by Mason Dixon, Obama gets 45% to McCain’s 44%. Obama gets 74% of Democrats, McCain 78% of Republicans. Important note: the poll was conducted on the 25th and the 26th - meaning voters were contacted after the first night of the convention.
  • In Ohio (polling history), Akron University has the race tied at 40%. The survey was taken entirely before Hillary’s speech, and it has Obama at a shocking 45% among Clinton voters. 29% support McCain - but he is still tied. As I have been saying for months, if Obama finally solidifies his base and captures registered Democrats, he would be nearly unbeatable.
  • In Pennsylvania (polling history), that CNN poll has Obama leading 48% to 43%. As with the three other CNN polls, this was taken after Obama announced he was picking Biden.
  • In New Mexico (polling history), CNN finds Obama crushing McCain with his biggest lead yet - 53% to 40%.
  • In Nevada, CNN has Obama leading 49% to 44%.
  • The race is much closer in Colorado (polling history), with CNN showing McCain at 47% and Obama at 46%. This is the only one of the four states that has a lead within the margin of error.
  • And in Rhode Island, a poll by Brown University has Obama leading 51% to 30%.
  • Two SUSA polls tested the Obama-McCain race in congressional districts as part of House polls (see below for the congressional numbers). In CO-04, a district Bush won by 17%, McCain only leads by 2%. In PA-10, a district Bush won by 20%, McCain only leads by 9%. If Obama keeps up these margins he could do great in both PA and CO on November 4th.
  • Now national polls: Today’s tracking numbers have trend lines in opposite directions but agree that it is as tight as can be: Rasmussen has McCain gaining a point and leading 47% to 46% while Gallup has Obama gaining 3% and erase the 2% lead McCain had yesterday.
  • And finally, a national poll released by Hotline has Obama leading 44% to 40%. It was conducted through the entirety of last week.

CNN’s Western polls are diametrically opposed to those Mason Dixon released over the week-end. The Mason Dixon surveys showed Obama leading in Colorado, while McCain was up in New Mexico and Nevada. But only in NV did we see a lead outside of the MoE. The CO numbers are perfectly compatible and the tightness is confirmed by nearly all recent polling data from the state (that is a disappointment for Obama who led in every single poll in that state until July 24th).

As for NM, it is worth pointing out that Mason Dixon’s numbers were somewhat surprising since most polls released from the state (and I admit they have been rare) have shown Obama leading. If CNN’s poll is anywhere close to right, that would have major consequences on the electoral map: Combined with Kerry states and with Iowa - which is clearly leaning in Obama’s direction - NM would put Obama at 264 electoral votes, 5 away from a tie.

As for the Big Three, these polls confirm what we already know: PA leans left, FL leans right and OH stays in the middle - though Obama would clearly receive a huge boost if he improves his share of Clinton voters. But a closer look at Florida is in order. Strategic Vision’s July poll came at a time most of the state’s surveys showed Obama gaining, but this month’s release is only slightly more Republican than the current average: the seven other FL polls that had been released in August until today all show McCain leading. It is hard to find a state with a clearer trendline over the past few weeks. That said, the Mason Dixon survey makes things more confusing (it is the first poll since the late July Quinnipiac to show Obama with any sort of lead).

Strategic Vision is in line with other surveys, but Mason Dixon is a more reliable polling outlet. If you average the two polls (which is not a very rigorous procedure), it gives McCain a narrow lead - which is pretty much what other polls are showing.

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

  • In the North Carolina gubernatorial race, PPP finds Beverly Perdue up 42% to 37%. That’s down from the 9% lead she enjoyed in July, but it is in line with what most polls have been showing.
  • In PA-10, Rep. Chris Carney narrowly leads against Republican challenger Chris Hackett 49% to 45%. Carney has stronger support among Democrats and leads among independents - but the district’s Republican lean keeps the election tight.
  • IN CO-04, Rep. Musgrave trails Democratic challenger Betsy Markey 50% to 43% in a SUSA poll. Markey crushes Musgrove 59% to 29% among independents!

Both of these House races are rated toss-ups in my latest House ratings. Late 2006, PA-10 was among the seats the GOP was confident were lost in an anomaly and would be conquered back in 2008. Carney won largely based on the incumbent’s ethical problems with his mistress (who accused him of having choked her) and PA-10 remains a conservative district, meaning that Carney’s will have to swim against the presidential currents in his first re-election race. The poll shows that Republicans were right and Carney is very vulnerable - as is any incumbent with such a small lead and under 50%. Hackett is wealthy and will have enough money to contest this race.

But if Carney is in danger, what to say about Musgrave. The controversial and very conservative Colorado congresswoman has consistently under-performed in this Republican-leaning district. Now, McCain himself is underperforming, pointing to a fundamental shift in the district that might make it very difficult for Musgrave to win re-election. For any incumbent to poll at 43% is worrisome, and even more so for one that has a history of electoral vulnerability.



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