As of Saturday morning, Barack Obama has a commanding lead in both the popular vote and on the electoral map. He has 249 solid votes, compared to 140 for McCain. Obama has 37 leaning votes, compared to 15 for McCain. Of the 97 unassigned votes, 78 show slight favor to Obama and 19 tilt toward McCain. If the election were held today, Obama would win with 364 electoral votes, McCain with 174. This highlights Obama’s hidden strategy: it’s not about the popular vote. Obama leads the popular vote by 6.9%, but has captured 68% of the electoral votes. So is Obama ahead by 7% or is it actually more like 18%?
All of Obama’s current success doesn’t amount to much until November 5th. Until then, McCain could still win this election if a couple of key events happen to go his way. As I count them, there are five scenarios that would lead to a McCain/Palin win:
1. Messiah Fatigue. Statistically speaking, the majority of this nation favors Obama, and a decent chunk of this following is loud and proud. It is entirely possible that Obama has peaked too early, and the momentum cannot be sustained. McCain could win if the nation gets bored with the election and stops paying attention. Obama’s message of change requires a frenzied nation. He has it now, but there are still 17 days left.
2. Democrat Apathy. Elections favor the Republicans by default because the retired population favors Republicans, and they always, always vote. So while Obama might have 249 solid electoral votes, McCain has a larger base of guaranteed voters. Combined with the Bradley Effect, Obama’s 6.9% lead could easily disappear when Democrats stay home and senior citizens don’t. Add to this the college crowd and minority voters who make up a substantial part of polling, but who are less reliable at the polls, and the win is much closer for McCain than many realize.
3. The Underdog. Republicans are desperate for good news, and any progress by McCain could be a slippery slope for Obama. The media love a horserace, and they won’t hesitate to turn a slight gain by McCain into a finish-by-a-nose race. Drudge did this the other day when an online poll by Yahoo showed a two-point lead by Obama – within the margin of error. Nobody had ever counted this online poll before, and the sampling was a ten-day period in which people could vote multiple times, but this didn’t stop Drudge from cherry-picking this particular poll to make it look like McCain had made a substantial gain when, in fact, he had not.
4. Obama Screws Up. This seems less and less likely, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. McCain, on the other hand, can’t seem to go a day without making things worse for himself. If Obama screws up big time, particularly in the area of McCain’s strengths (terrorism, foreign affairs, working class appeal), it could be a significant game-changer.
5. October Surprise. This also seems less likely, given the desperation of the McCain campaign. If they had something up their sleeves, they would be more confident than they appear to be. It is still possible, however, that some major event or revelation could easily change people’s minds. News from the middle east, a skeleton in Obama’s closet, or some really, really good news for McCain might be enough to push him over the top in the last few days.
There are still 17 days left, and that’s plenty of time for things to change.