Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Brief Update from the Road, Disclosing My Personal Perspective

Popular and Electoral Projections: No Update Today -- Complete Analysis Tomorrow
Days Until Election: 13

As I mentioned in my last post, I am on the road (in beautiful sunny Sacramento, California) and have not had time to analyze the polls in depth and publish a new projection. I will be back home tomorrow night and will attempt to do so -- certainly I will post one no later than Friday.

Topline Projection Rundown:
(1) National Polls are diverging a little but in aggregate are more or less where they were 3 days ago when I posted. The range of Obama's lead in the tracking polls today is between 2% and 10% with an average somewhere in the 6-7% range, more or less where it has been for quite a while.
(2) In the battle for states (the real battle), there are a few changes.

West Virginia will almost certainly flip back to Mccain when I run the numbers -- a number of new polls have showed him with a small to moderate lead there. I never expected WV to go blue in the end.

Florida appears to have tightened significantly and may be even or even slightly in Mccain's column, with the last 3 polls giving Mccain a 1 to 2% lead vs. polls from the prior week showing a 4 to 5% lead for Obama.

Nevada, North Carolina, Missouri and Colorado all appear still be close but in Obama's column with very little change in status in the past week.

Ohio has wildly divergent polls, but Obama is probably very slightly ahead on balance.

Obama continues to hold a moderate lead in Virginia (although it may be getting slightly closer.)

Mccain continues to hold small to moderate leads in Indiana, Georgia, Montana and North Dakota. He will probably win all 4 in the end, except for maybe North Dakota (there simply isn't enough polling data to tell definitively yet and the last two polls were even or Obama leading slightly)

Mccain's Big Bet
John Mccain's latest strategy is to effectively concede a couple of the blue states he was contesting (Wisconsin and Minnesota, he had already effectively pulled out of Michigan) and also stop contesting Colorado, Iowa and New Mexico (which were red in 2004) and focus his resources on just a handful of states: North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

While pulling out of Wisconsin and Minnesota makes sense (he is behind by about 8 points in Minnesota and double digits in Wisconsin) and no one could argue with the need to North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Ohio (NC, FL and OH are all super-close and big prizes and it is hard to imagine a map where Mccain could lose VA and win), the intent to effectively concede Colorado and focus resources on Pennsylvania, where he is down by at least 10% seems a little crazy at first blush.

But, in the broader context of the race it makes sense.
With no blue states seriously in play (and there aren't any at this point), Obama starts with a base of 252. He is almost sure to win Iowa and New Mexico, which gives him 12 additional electoral votes, bringing his total to 264. To win, Mccain would have to run the table in the remaining close and moderately close states: he would need to win in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Missouri, Colorado, Nevada, Indiana and West Virginia. Lose any one of those and he cannot get to 270.

Mccain does not have the financial resources to compete and run the table in all 9 of those states. His ONLY other path is to pick off a big blue state and there is no other blue state that Mccain could even consider going after beyond PA.

Think about it -- if Mccain wins PA, that reduces Obama's base to 231. Let's say Obama takes Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Missouri -- this would give him 268 and leave Mccain 270. So IF Mccain could win Pennsylvania and hold North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Ohio, he wins. He can't win under any circumstances without NC, VA, FL and OH, so winning PA effectively means he can concede the other 5 battlegrounds and still win.

It's definitely a long-shot strategy -- he has made no inroads so far that I can tell, but on balance, it may be his best, last shot at winning the race.

The Game Isn't Changing Yet
Every day that rolls by without Mccain being able to shift the focus of the election is making the road ahead of him harder. The news cycles this week have been about Powell endorsing Obama, Sarah Palin's children's expenses and her $150K makeover and the continued economic and stock market woes. Nothing here that helps Mccain.

He is entering territory where he would need an unprecedented comeback.

Obama has the money to counteract any strategy Mccain would employ.

And yet -- some polls are still close, Obama is still barely at 50% in most polls and Mccain still has almost two weeks, which is still a long time in the political world.

Where We Haven't Gone Yet
There are 13 days left and Mccain is still down. Mccain has repeatedly stated that Jeremiah Wright is out-of-bounds for his campaign. His campaign manager is hinting on conservative radio about a shift in strategy.

We all know where this could be headed. This is a test of character for Mccain. Does he care more about his values or about being President? In spite of Democratic criticisms, as I have stated before, I believe that Mccain has largely run an honorable campaign (yes, he's had some ads that have stretched the truth, but so has Obama and Mccain's ads were nowhere near as vicious and unethical as Willie Horton or Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.) If he goes for Wright now, he sells out his principles and proves his Democratic critics right.

He shouldn't do it. But he might. And if he does, we don't know if it will work.

My Personal Perspective
When I enter the voting booth on November 4th, I will be casting my vote for Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States of America.

My endorsement probably means nothing to most, but my reasons may matter to some.

Let me tell you a little bit first off about my voting history, so you can gauge my politics. In the past 6 presidential elections, I supported George H-W Bush in 1988 and 1992 (although with much more enthusiasm in 1988 than in 1992.) In 1996, I voted for Ross Perot in protest of my available choices. In 2000, I supported John Mccain enthusiastically in the primary (and contributed money to his campaign) and then reluctantly voted for Al Gore when George W. Bush was nominated. In 2004, I supported Joe Lieberman in the primaries, then I held my nose and voted for John Kerry, a man who I thought was deeply flawed but preferable to Bush. This year, I voted for Barack Obama in the primary, although the Republican race was effectively decided by the time I voted and it would have been a tough choice which primary to participate in had that not been the case.

In local races, I have voted for both parties. Among Republicans, I have voted for John Warner when I lived in Virginia, Arlen Specter in Virginia and Arnold Schwarzanegger in California. Among Democrats, I have support such individuals as Douglas Wilder in Virginia and Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania.

Before I talk about Barack Obama, let me first talk about John Mccain. Throughout the course of his career, John Mccain has been one of my heroes. He has had a remarkably consistent centrist philosophy and has been a man of prinicple. I have admired his efforts to reign in pork in Washington, his passion for smaller government and his recognition that spending needs to be cut BEFORE taxes are cut. I've admired his work on campaign finance reform. His courage on issues such as immigration, torture, campaign finance reform. His capability to negotiate compromise in the senate to preserve the dual goals of filling federal judgeships while maintaining the best traditions and protections of the US Senate. Even his largely unheralded work to reform the sport of boxing and protect those atheletes health and economic well-being. His right and prinicpled attack on the "agents of intolerance".

Unfortunately, in many ways, Mccain has lost his way. He now supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent without balancing the budget. He voted for the bailout despite it being laden with pork. He now opposes his own immigration bill. He has embraced the very agents of intolerance he once bravely spoke out against. He seems lost on what to do on the economy (we are going to solve the crisis by cutting pork?!) He picked Sarah Palin for the VP slot out of political expediency, when Joe Lieberman would have been his principled pick. Sorry, John, but I just can't be with you anymore.

Not that my support for Obama is purely or even mostly out of dissatisfaction with Mccain. I support Barack Obama because I believe we have the opportunity in this election to make a major change for the better in this country.

First, Obama has the capacity to restore America's image in the world. He has shown throughout the course of the campaign an adept and advance view of geopolitical issues. He is clearly beloved among the leaders of allied nations. He was right on not going to Iraq (that the surge has shown success does not change the fact.) Conservatism, before it was coopted by neocons used to believe in diplomacy first and the use of force only when presented with a clear and present danger to our national security (anyone remember Bosnia?) For all the flack he has taken, he is right on Iran too, a fact that the Bush administration has tacitally admitted by beginning talks with Iran. He is right about Afghanistan, a much amplified presence is needed in that critical area and he is the only one with a credible plan to increase our presence there (by moving troops from Iraq.) Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama is tribute to these facts.

Second, Obama is more right on the key moral issues of the day. It is very likely that if John Mccain is elected president and gets to appoint even one supreme court justice that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. This would lead to abortions being unavailable to underpriviledge women in states throught the southern US, creating a massive social problem, in addition to my serious moral problem with the government intervening in women's rights in this way. Obama is more right about health care -- it is a crime the number of children who are uninsured in a country as wealthy as ours.

Third, Obama is more right about the economy. Warren Buffet has stated that it is criminal that he pays a lower percentage of his income in taxes than his secretary and he is correct. Mccain has made a lot of hay about wealth redistribution in recent days -- these attacks are bull. It is an undeniable fact that when you look at total taxes paid to the federal government (income taxes, capital gains taxes AND payroll taxes, which are regressive and often ignored by conservatives) divided by total income, the top 1% pay far less in tax rate than the middle 50%. This is wrong. Conservatives point to bold facts like that the 1% pay 40% of the taxes. This is interesting, but irrelevant. The top 1% have 60% of the wealth, their FAIR share would be 60% of the taxes. Conservatives say that taxes will squash business investment. This is also wrong. The economy is consumer driven, not production driven as is proven over and over again as the economy tracks with conusmer confidence. Consumers are in the middle class. Buffett's endorsement of Obama is testament to this fact.

Finally and not insignificantly is the issue of race. In a Gallup poll earlier this year, 9% of voters said they were more likely to support Obama because of his race, 6% said less likely and most of the remaining 85% were probably lying. Not that I think most people in this country are racist, quite the contrary. I simply do not believe that this is an issue that can be ignored. For over 200 years and 43 presidents, we have elected white males to the top office in this nation. We tell our children they can be anything they want when they grow up, but the reality is that this hasn't really been true at the top least not yet. Electing an African-American (in reality only 50% black, but for all practical purposes, he is black) President is the fulfillment of the American promise -- our core founding principle, which has not yet been fulfilled, that "all men are created equal". If Obama were unqualified, possessed truly radical views or lacked the leadership or capability to be president, none of this would matter. But Obama is none of those things and the significance of the message an African-American in the White House sends to our children, our nation and the world means a lot.

Not that my endorsement is completely without reservation. While I don't fault Obama for sitting on a board will Bill Ayers, he should have known who he was and should have condemned Ayers' terrorism much earlier and much more strongly. Obama should have denounced the rantings of Jeremiah Wright long before it became politically convenient. But Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright are not Barack Obama and I certainly wouldn't pass the test of whether all of my past friends were stand-up citizens, nor would most, I suspect.

Obama was hypocritical for endorsing the prinicple of campaign finance reform, stating he would take public financing and the abandoning it when it was politically convenient to do so. Winning at all costs is no excuse for Obama anymore than it is for Mccain.

But on balance, my concerns with Obama are small for a presidential candidate that has been picked apart for two years and his positives very compelling. John Mccain is a good man who has unfortuantely lost his way and watched his time past. Barack Obama is the best leader for America now.

Note: I assure you that I will continue to provide unbiased analysis of polling data. Nothing in my projection formula, which is statistically based will change. Thank you for reading, especially my Republican friends. Good people can disagree on these issues, just as the two good men at the top of the national tickets do.

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