Thank God we still have congressional races, and legislative races, and local initiatives; right now, all of these are far more suspenseful than the presidential election.
I like to think that I have not been artificially portraying the presidential race as tighter than it is (or, for that matter, that I have not been underestimating McCain’s prospects). But with a new wave of polls suggesting an Obama landslide, with an increasingly obvious financial and organizational gap, with the impressive Democratic early voting turnout and with McCain staffers looking as preoccupied with their post-electoral survival as with November 4th, is it honest to still suggest that the race is at all competitive? Does McCain still have a shot, or is the presidential election essentially over?
National polls are showing no sign of tightening whatsoever, quite the contrary, Obama’s winning margin has once again inched up into double-digit territory in a number of surveys. Now, just-released state polls paint a truly dismal situation for the Republican nominee. In 8 “Big10 Battleground” and 3 Quinnipiac surveys, Obama leads by double digits in Ohio (twice), Pennsylvania (twice), Michigan (by 22%), Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and even Indiana! Only in Quinnipiac’s Florida poll is McCain behind in single digits, but he remains behind by 5%.
Considering that a single loss in Pennsylvania, Ohio or Florida would be enough to seal McCain’s fate and that Obama could survive even if he somehow lost all three, those numbers are obviously very troubling for the Arizona Senator - as is the fact that Obama opens up his two largest leads ever in Ohio in polls taken over the same period and released on the same day.
Now, these Quinnipiac and Big10 polls are on the higher end of Obama’s leads, and they are probably modeled on turnout models in which the LV results resemble the RV results more closely than in past elections. As we saw yesterday, some pollsters have looser LV screens (say, Gallup), while others are modeling their results on a more traditional turnout model, and that explains some of the discrepancy we are seeing in the polling. (PPP’s blog has another, fascinating hypothesis to explain some of the difference in polling, albeit one I have no background to assess: Obama supporters are harder to get in touch with, meaning that one-night polls might be understating his support.)
That Obama also leads in polls with tighter LV screens (say Gallup’s “traditional model”) and in polls like Zogby’s tracking whose partisan identification is very favorable to Republicans suggests that what pollsters are fighting over is the size of Obama’s victory rather than whether he will win.
To make matters worse for Republicans, early voting data continues to be stunningly good for Democrats, which backs the polling models that posit larger turnout and a big partisan ID gap:
- In Georgia, where 892,230 voters have now cast a ballot, the share of the black vote is holding at 35,5%.
- In North Carolina, where more than 700,000 have now cast a ballot, Democrats make up 56,3% of early voters versus 27,1% for Republicans. Even taken separately, white Democrats and nonwhite Democrats outnumber Republican voters.
- In Florida, with 150 thousand new voters yesterday, the totals now include 54,5% of Democrats and 30,5% of Republicans. (Republicans still have a lead in absentee ballot requests.)
- In Colorado, more than 22% of the number of 2004 voters have already cast, meaning that the window is closing quickly for McCain to make his case.
Predictions of a boost in African-American turnout are proving accurate in Georgia and North Carolina, and so far they are not being matched by a equivalent boost in white turnout. While the share of the black vote should drop on Election Day, the pattern is worrisome for Republican prospects not just in those states but in most states with a substantial African-American population. Republican incumbents like Sen. Wicker and Reps. Chabot and Hayes are looking increasingly endangered.
McCain does not have money going for him either. He is being swamped in TV advertising in most states, and is being forced to pour so much money in red states that it had until recently neglected that it is going out of places like Colorado. The Denver Post confirms that McCain’s partial pull-out is leading to Obama overspending him 7:1 in a state that is a must-win for McCain if he cannot pick-up a blue state. And even if McCain is investing in states like Indiana now, he is not blanketing them the way Obama is. (The Democrat, for instance, has enough money to buy ads on the expensive Chicago market and reach Northwest Indiana.)
What does McCain have pin his hopes on, then? Simply put, there is not that much more his campaign can do at this point. There are 12 more days, the clock is running out, voter preferences are solidifying and it’s not like Republicans are in the midst of a great offensive. They are no longer actively pushing Ayers, and their emphasis on taxes has failed to move poll numbers. Now, McCain is launching his biggest effort yet to differentiate himself from Bush in an interview with The Washington Times. It’s October 23rd, and that’s all I need to say.
That McCain is not making progress is not that surprising, given that the race has been remarkably stable since early June except for a period of wide swings in the first half of September. (Obama started June in the lead, slowly inched upward, slowly inch downward until convention period. He has incrementally expanded his lead since mid-September.) The electorate has not been showing many signs of indecision for McCain to hope for late-breaking movement. Sure, there can always be a giant game-changer or a bombshell revelation, but it will take quite a significant one to reverse the tide.
Worst still for McCain, few GOPers now seem to believe in the possibility of his victory - and that means that congressional Republicans are starting to re-organize their campaign with the assumption of an Obama presidency. The GOP’s closing strategy could be to argue that voters shouldn’t give all levels of power to Democrats, so they should elect Republicans to Congress to keep a check on a President Obama. This is the message of the NRSC’s latest ad in North Carolina, which warns that “these liberals want complete control of government in a time of crisis. All branches of Government… If [Hagan] wins, they get a blank check:”
This was the strategy implemented by the GOP in the final weeks of 1996, when Bob Dole’s prospects were quickly fading. But Bill Clinton was then in his second term, and voters already thought of the White House as Democratic; now, voters are going for Democrats precisely because they think Washington is controlled by Republicans, making the GOP’s warnings against a unified government far less effective. (Something that McCain learned in September when he tried to seize Obama’s change mantle by pretending that Republicans had been out of power.) That said, it might be all Republicans have left to try to salvage what is still salvageable.