Saturday, September 06, 2008

Post-Convention Update (E-58)

Well, now both parties have official candidates, and we're at the sixty-day mark. Just under two months to go. Now, let's see how the numbers look. First, from Pollster:

Strong D: 231 (+17)
Lean D: 29 (-17)
Toss-Up: 99 (-3)
Lean R: 84 (+20)
Strong R: 115 (+3)

Total D: 260 (+0)
Total R: 179 (+3)

Now, some total EV estimates from Election Projection:

9/1/08 Estimate: Obama 278, McCain 260
9/5/08 Estimate: Obama 311, McCain 227

States Obama currently "winning" that Bush won in 2004 (also from EP):

Colorado (9), Nevada (5), Ohio (20), Virginia (13), Iowa (7), New Mexico (5)

And lastly, the betting man's predictions from Intrade: (chances of winning)

Obama 57.5%, McCain 42.4%.

The big news of the week is, of course, McCain's pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate. This is a problematic pick in my opinion. For starters, McCain has essentially conceded the experience argument. By picking a newcomer to national politics, he opens his campaign up to an immediate riposte if he should make a claim based on Obama's lack of experience. That's now a wash. Further, Palin has a few serious problems as a candidate. The one that really bothers me is the association her husband had with the Alaska Independence Party, and the fact that she actually spoke at one of their conventions. Granted, she was mayor of the town that was hosting said convention ... but if it had been my town, I wouldn't have given that lot the time of day. Also, there are two ongoing investigations into possible abuses of power. Either McCain's vetters never bothered to ask these questions, or they knew about them and decided it was a good pick anyway. Both are disturbing, if for slightly different reasons.

The pick says more about McCain, though, than it says about anything else. McCain is still a strike pilot at heart: aggressive and unpredictable. These are qualities that serve a strike pilot well. When you're scudding across the treetops at 500 knots, it's rather less important to make a perfect decision than it is to make a fast one. You only have to confuse a gunner for a second, then you're long gone. But are these qualities that will serve him well as a commander-in-chief? That remains to be seen.

Also: it does have to be said that both candidates picked their running mates for different reasons. Obama picked a running mate that would make him a better President. McCain picked a running mate that would make him a better candidate. The real story here, I think, is that McCain is still running for the whole-hearted support of the Republican base. That's a dangerous thing to do, especially this late in a race. Primaries may be decided on the fringe, but general elections are decided in the center. The candidate who speaks best to that center will win the election.

What John McCain must do: Now that he's finally tacked down his carpet, politically speaking, he must begin campaigning for the center. If he tries an old-school divisive campaign, he's liable to lose and lose big. Sure, he's got to bring conservatives to the polls. He still has to come out swinging. But if he tries riffs from 2000 or 2004, they won't play as well this year as they have in the past. He's got to win the independents, too. He's got to show where Obama's proposals won't work, and have some specific counter-proposals that will appeal to the center. If he stays smart, aggressive, and lucky, it's still doable. But it remains an uphill battle.

What Barack Obama must do: Attacking Palin is something that will have to be done carefully, if it is to be done at all. He cannot be seen to be attacking her for who she is. What she's said, and what she's done are all fair game, but be sure that the attacks are all about substance, and that all blows are above the belt. He's done better about engaging McCain's campaign head-to-head, and has some gains to show for it. But it's no coast or cake-walk, not by a long shot. He can still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by complacency or foolishness. It's never too late. He has to maintain a vigorous engagement on the issues, while avoiding unforced errors. If he can pull that off, his chances of winning look pretty good.

The Way to Bet: Intrade's line was running 60-40 in Obama's favor for weeks, before shifting a little bit during/after the Republican convention. But the shift isn't much. I'd take 3-2 odds on Obama winning, though I wouldn't put the mortgage on it.

Fifty-eight days to go. Remember, vote early, and vote often!

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