Saturday, September 27, 2008

Post-Debate Update (E-38)

And now, we're into the stretch. The first of four debates is over, and the first debate was a draw. Both candidates got some digs in, but neither was able to clearly pull away with advantage. For McCain, that's probably as good as a loss, since the emphasis of this debate was foreign affairs, his particular domain of expertise. This was as friendly a topic list as he could ever expect. If he couldn't throw Obama to the mat and make him cry uncle last night, it probably ain't gonna happen in the two other debates to follow. And now, the numbers:

From Pollster:

DEM: 229 (-31)
REP: 174 (-15)
Toss-Up: 135 (+36)

From Intrade:

DEM: 311 (current price 55.8, -1.7%)
REP: 227 (current price 42.1, -0.3%)

Now, reading the numbers... There's a story that's not told. The Intrade prices about a week after the Republican convention were as near to even money as made no difference. The dynamic duo of McCain/Palin ran wild for about a week, breaking the race wide open, until she started talking to the press. You've seen the interviews, I presume? The phrase "duck's eye view of a shotgun blast" comes to mind.

If McCain loses, it's his disastrous choice of a running mate that will have sunk him. And this choice offers a window into McCain's thought processes that can be quite illuminating.

A fair number of people, some journalists included, tend to say that John McCain is a former fighter pilot. Strictly speaking, this isn't true. McCain is a former attack pilot. It's a different game entirely, played by a different set of rules. A fighter pilot is constantly engaged with the enemy or situation at hand, constantly trying to out-maneuver him to get a shot. An attack pilot's MO is different. They're just as engaged with the situation at hand, but their engagements with gunners on the ground is different. They aren't constantly engaged in a move/countermove cycle. They just have to juke a gunner on the ground once, and then they're long gone. The attack pilot constantly jukes, jinks, and pulls wild maneuvers to break contact and proceed to their target. It's no less demanding than being a fighter pilot, but the thought process is still different.

It certainly appears that his VP choice was an impulse buy. And it's a fair argument that there weren't many other good choices. I can almost see him leafing through potential VP dossiers: "Death. Death. Electric death. Painful salt-water-and-razor-blade-jacuzzi death ... oh, hey, no one's ever heard of this one before! She'll work!" And he was right, at least in the near term. The excitement over his new VP sent waves of energy through his base that weren't there before. He surged in the polls. Obama's odds went from 3-2 to even money in a matter of days. And then...

The ugly truth comes out. She's incapable of holding an intelligent, unscripted conversation on anything of real substance. If it hasn't been made plain already, it will become manifestly clear during the upcoming VP debate. Mind you, I still don't like Biden, for reasons I've mentioned earlier. And he's prone to sticking his foot in his mouth. But, he knows his stuff. If it's an issue he's had a chance to study up on, he'll know the particulars inside-out. Palin's going to wake up the morning after with a license plate number embossed into her skull, wondering where that Mack truck came from.

Now, you may ask, why does this even matter? It's not as if VP is a real job, anyway. You're doing two things: waiting for the opportunity to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate, and waiting for the boss to keel over. Neither one happens all that often.

Well, here's why it matters. It's the first Presidential decision that a candidate makes. The care, deliberation, and process that they use form the template for all their decisions to follow. If that decision is quite plainly impulsive and tactical as opposed to considered and strategic, then it's reasonable to guess that the Presidency to follow would be one of management by damage control, lurching from one crisis to the next. And by this yardstick, McCain did not exactly cover himself with glory with his VP pick. It's deeply disappointing, and gives me grave concerns over his actual ability to govern.

What John McCain must do: John McCain has to win the center. He needs 96 of the 135 toss-up EVs on the table to win, Obama needs but 41. But he can't win the center by running to the right. It's not quite irretrievable, yet, but will be soon unless he pulls something spectacular out of his hat. Or, if something equally spectacular happens that he's able to capitalize on. And no matter what he does, if the election turns on economic issues, he's probably screwed.

What Barack Obama must do: Barack Obama must avoid unforced errors. He also has to win the center, but he's closer to accomplishing that goal than McCain is. The economic crisis plays to his strengths on domestic policy. As long as he stays calm, looks Presidential, and doesn't say anything stupid or crazy, he can keep his lead. At this point, he's not playing "catch-up", he's playing "stay-ahead", which is a far easier game.

The way to bet: Intrade isn't quoting odds quite so favorable anymore, but I'd still take 3-2 odds on Obama winning on November 4th. I don't think McCain's getting out of the hole he's dug for himself. For that matter, I'm not sure that he's even stopped digging.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What the Heck?

If you'll glance over to the right, as of this writing, something important appears to have changed. The Earth Advisory Board has changed the status of our planet to Red, for Destroyed.

Dire news, if true. Is this any cause for concern?

Well, not really. I suspect the proprietor of the site that I get that tag from is having some fun at the expense of the fools who think that the Large Hadron Collider will actually destroy the world. Which, quite plainly, it won't.

So, despite what appears to be a false alarm, the world is still here. Yes, it's still messed up, but when hasn't it been?

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Return of the King!

If we can credit the rumors flying around at places like and VeloNews, it looks like Lance Armstrong is coming out of retirement to ride for Team Astana in 2009. This puts him back with Johan Bruyneel, his old Sporting Director from Discovery, and also with George Hincapie, who rode as his teammate through all seven Tour de France victories.

Looks like he wants to make it an even eight. I don't know of anyone who could stop him, were he so inclined. At the same time, he's not getting any younger. Time will catch up to him eventually. But, probably not this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that.

Stand by for the Tour de Lance: coming to a television near you in July, 2009!

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!