Obama is holding steady in the horserace for the presidency. Currently, he’s 4.6% ahead of McCain in the popular vote. He’s up 64 electoral votes, and of the 178 votes from toss-up states, 104 of them go to Obama. When you measure only the toss-up states with a margin of at least 3%, Obama gets 59 votes, whereas McCain only gets 11. You can use the stats from yesterday’s posts to see how I arrive at these numbers.
In the past two weeks, Obama’s stock has risen steadily while McCain’s stock has slowly declined. Bottom line: Obama is winning, and is winning fairly handily. That doesn’t make a whole lot of difference right now, though, as there is plenty of time for things to go haywire.
So here is a Beginner’s Guide to watching the rest of the campaign season:
What does Obama need to do?
“Never argue with a fool, people won’t be able to tell who is who.” While McCain is hardly a fool, Obama is taking this advice to heart and will spend the next four weeks avoiding confrontation. For as long as he is in the lead, Obama needs to stay quiet. He’ll continue campaigning strongly, continue running ads in key markets, and keep up the excellent grassroots efforts. Obama will resist the temptation to create drama just to put the headlines back on him. The next month will be a test of Obama’s ability to generate and maintain political endurance. I’m assuming that the campaign’s energies are going toward individual counties and areas of opportunity. Democrats will want Obama to be large and in charge, but this is neither effective nor is it his style. There’s no reason to show more of your cards than is absolutely necessary, so Obama will focus on zip codes, not states for as long as the campaign will allow.
What does McCain need to do?
McCain will spend the next month trying to steal the spotlight from Obama in politically safe ways. If he can’t do it safely, he’s proven in the past that a couple of Hail Mary’s aren’t out of the question. Look for McCain to continue to do things that shake up the race and catch people off guard – choosing Palin and suspending his campaign are two great examples of the sort of drastic action McCain will need to continue to offer as a regular part of his campaign. We will continue to see both parties fire safe shots from a safe distance, but watch for McCain’s volleys to be a little more stinging and forceful. He’ll try to engage Obama to go head-to-head, which makes them appear more even than they are.
What is each candidate trying to accomplish in the last 30 days?
Obama proved many times during the primaries that he is a master of the map – he knows districts and counties like the back of his hand, and artfully dispatches his resources where they are needed. He has created a national identity that is strong and consistent in the minds of most Americans. As long as Obama isn’t needed on the national stage, he can continue working the districts one-by-one, slowly rising the tide where needed.
By contrast, McCain is still working on his national identity, and his fondness for being all things to all people is working against him. The more hats he wears along the many stops each day, the more he illuminates the contrasts: patriots don’t want progressive change, reformers can’t have a lot of experience, and mavericks aren’t bipartisan. It’s true that any McCain supporter could easily explain how all of these wonderful labels work in pure harmony, but it requires a fairly artful dance that most undecided voters are too impatient to enjoy to the end. Being right is much different than being understood – a curse every Kerry supporter could explain in just under fifteen minutes. To this extent, McCain has had to rely on surrogates to get down to the community level while McCain sets bait for the national press with an ongoing series of flashy tactics (ahem, not strategies) designed to say “hey, forget about all the other stuff, here’s the REAL John McCain.”
An Interesting Side Note
Those among you who follow politics closely have noticed something missing from this year’s campaign: wedge issues. Where is the gay marriage vote? What happened to the immigration proposition? These issues are completely gone from the national spotlight and from most state ballots. Why? Eu tu, Brute? McCain pointed his sharp dagger squarely at the heart of the Bush administration and thrust forward with all his might. Not only are there no issues out there that would energize the base, there’s nobody strong enough to champion the cause and make it a defining issue. Even Karl Rove is only part-time help for McCain.
So What’s Next?
Now it’s time to wait for the “October Surprise”. Do a Google search for this term and you’ll learn that every major election always includes a last-minute twist designed to totally derail a candidate. There are two types of October Surprises: a “good-for-me” surprise and a “bad-for-you” surprise.
In the next post, we’ll talk about possible October Surprises and make some predictions.