Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New Map, New Day


Well, I may have made a lot of bad predictions in my life, but this one shaped up more or less how I laid it out. After the conventions, I predicted a period of stability leading into the debates, although even I couldn't have predicted how stable the electoral map was. Obama was slowly creeping up in national polls, however and he has had a very good past two weeks (or should I say, Mccain/Palin has had a very bad two weeks.) More on that in a second.

Changes to the map almost all favor Obama and are as follows:
Lead Change Virginia -- flips from Mccain to Obama, becomes a key battleground

Key Battlegrounds Virginia -- Obama leads now, but it IS very close
Serious Battlegrounds
Ohio -- no change
North Carolina -- stays Mccain for now, but promoted from fringe to serious battleground. Obama has made big inroads here and a state which every observer would have thought would be solid red again (Bush won by 12 points) is now within grasp (some sites are even calling it in his favor at this point.) Mccain needs to go on heavy defense here.

Substantial Battlegrounds Nevada -- no change
New Hampshire -- no change
Florida -- promoted from fringe to substantial battleground -- Mccain still leads, but Obama has crept very close

Somewhat Battlegrounds Colorado -- no change

Fringe Battlegrounds Pennsylvania -- demoted from somewhat to fringe battleground -- Obama pulls away a little
Indiana -- no change

Note: Wisconsin and Minnesota dropped as battlegrounds. Both are still relatively close and are retained as potential battlegrounds
Potential Battlegrounds
New Mexico

Note: I have dropped Michigan as a battleground as Obama has pulled away and Mccain is not doing much to contest this state at this point. You could make an argument for dropping New Mexico too, but it is slightly closer, so it stays for now.
Obama's Big Two Weeks
Obama has had a great couple of weeks, not only negating the gains made by the Republicans after the convention, but pulling out to close to his biggest national lead yet. Three factors have been driving Obama's gain:

(1) The Economic Crisis Focusing on the economy versus national security issues is a net benefit to Obama. Add to that John Mccain's multiple bungles ("the fundamentals of the economy are strong", followed by calling for a suspension of the debate until a deal was struck, debating anyway, claiming credit for contributing to a deal that fell through) and you've got a plus for Obama

(2) The Sarah Palin Effect, Part 2 The shine is off the pit bull with lipstick, for sure. After taking constant heat for dodging the press, Sarah Palin's first big unscripted interview with Katie Couric was an absolute disaster. She looked completely out of her league and the YouTube videos of her and Ms. Teen NC popped up almost immediately. The only silver lining for Mccain is she has now set the bar so low that if she shows up and sounds halfway coherent on Thursday, it will be an expectations win.

Conservatives have been arguing for the past week that her gaffes (such as saying the financial bailout was about providing healthcare and promoting free trade or saying that Alaska having islands close to Russia gives her foreign policy experience) have been widely talked about by the press but that Joe Biden's gaffes (such as stating that FDR talked to people on TV in 1929, a statement where essentially every noun is incorrect) have not been talked about as much. They have a fair point. But Palin didn't do herself any favors with the press by shunning them. Plus, Biden may be gaffe prone, but nobody doubts that he has the intellectual or experiential chops to be President, whereas the question is open with Palin.

(3) The Debate I said in my initial post-debate blog that I thought the debate ranked somewhere between a draw and a modest win for Obama. I tend towards the later side of that spectrum with some time and perspective. Clearly, Obama enhanced his credibility by showing he could hold his own with Mccain on foreign policy. He looks more and more presidential as he gains experience in these forums.
Intrade Ridiculousness
If you follow the gambling exchange Intrade, it is now showing Obama as an almost 2:1 betting favorite. This is WAY too generous to Obama. The race is nowhere near over and Obama's entire lead could be erased with one poor debate performance, one gaffe or one October surprise. Intrade appears to be prone to wild swings this year, Obama was a 2:1 favorite after clinching the nomination, dropped to 3:2 leading into the conventions, was even money after the conventions and is now back to 2:1.

There are 5 weeks left...that is a lifetime in a campaign (just think about the fluctuations in the LAST 5 weeks) and we still have 4 major events left to unfold:
1. The VP Debate -- Thursday, October 2nd
Everyone thinks that this favors Obama, but as I said, the expectations for Palin are so low that if she turns in a reasonably close performance, it is effectively a win. She has been prepping hard for the debate, so don't be too surprised if she doesn't fall on her face. Plus, there is always the chance for a Biden gaffe in front of a huge TV audience (although not one from 1929.)
2. The Town Hall Debate -- Tuesday, October 7th
This is John Mccain's best format (the Town Hall) and will probably garner bigger ratings than debate #1 because it is on a weeknight.
3. The Domestic Policy Debate -- Thursday, October 15th
This is thought to be Obama's strong suit, but Mccain has underrated debating skills -- don't count him out in this one
4. The October Surprise -- Friday, October 16th Onward
If there is an October Surprise coming (and you have to believe the Mccain campaign will at least try), then it will come after the third debate. The last thing you want to do is leak a sleazy story in a way that will give your opponent a national audience to debunk it.

If I were setting a line, I'd say Obama is something like a 3:2 favorite at this point. He is ahead, no doubt, but this thing isn't close to over.
Cleanest Recent Campaign
Unlike most observers, I have to say I'm surprised at how clean this campaign has been. I was expecting the 527 ads to be running now on both sides:
Against Mccain -- The Keating 5, Mccain saying "I still hate the gooks" in 2000, etc.
Against Obama -- Jeremiah Wright saying "goddamn America!", ads highlighting his Arab-sounding name (Barack HUSSEIN Obama) and hinting he is a Muslim

Are these two guys really a different breed of candidate? Or is it just too early?

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