When the national polls came out after the GOP Convention, it started happening again.
The Democrats began to panic, lose their nerve, second-guess themselves and their candidate. Obama should hit back harder. Obama should go on the attack. Obama should dump his campaign staff. Obama should get some passion. Obama should stand on his head and eat cornflakes for breakfast.
The media picked up on the fear and now it’s the top story – how the GOP has successfully caused Obama to “stumble.”
The fact is that bounces happen. Sometimes they are small, sometimes they are big. In a few cases they are even non-existent. And there is very little pattern to the relationship between bounce and winning the election.
Yes, the national polls have the race a lot tighter than after the democratic convention. Take a closer look at the state by state analysis, and the numbers tell quite a different story….
According to the CNN electoral map, most states are polling so that they are in one column or the other. They categorize states as safe, leaning, or toss-up. According to their polling and analysis, the states that are safe or leaning for Obama tally up to 243 electoral votes. The states that are safe or lean for McCain only tally up to 189 electoral votes. In order to win the election, a candidate must get 270 electoral votes.
There are eight toss-up states: Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada.
It cannot be emphasized enough how much of an advantage Obama actually has on the electoral map right now, even among the “safe” states. With New York, Illinois, and California nearly a lock for him, that’s 107 electoral votes all but assured. With 42 more votes from a solid block of northeastern states, Obama has half the electoral votes he needs. McCain’s block of “safe states” is more numerous, but the states carry fewer votes each – Texas is the biggest prize among them with 34 votes.
Looking at the polls for the toss-up states right now, they are a mixed bag. Missouri, Nevada, Virginia and Florida currently favor McCain, giving him 56 more electoral votes. But Obama leads in polls in Colorado, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Michigan, giving him 50 votes, enough to put him over the top and assure electoral victory with 293 electoral votes.
In other words, right now, we’re winning.
But it is a game of inches in a close election, which means we cannot afford to get cocky. But neither does it help to panic. Sure, Palin has provided some momentum to the McCain campaign, but everyone is loved in the beginning when they are shiny and new, and soon after pilloried once the bloom is off the rose. Anyone here remember Wesley Clark in 2004? How about Fred Thompson in the GOP primary? At best, Palin has shored up McCain’s base, but in the long run can she really attract the swing voters that will be necessary to put more swing states into play and change the map? My guess is no.
Palin was chosen in part as a distraction, a way to change the subject of the conversation. And we have bought it, hook, line and sinker. The cold hard truth is that McCain has to “run the table” with respect to the toss up states to have a chance at winning the election. Here are my thoughts on each of the “toss ups”:
Florida: I kind of figured that Florida was going to be a problem for Democrats since the primaries. The turnout for the GOP primary was higher than the turnout for the Democratic primary. Also, since the senior vote is trending towards McCain, this state, (which is almost always a squeaker) winds up being pretty likely to go Republican in November.
Nevada: There was way more turnout for the GOP primary in January than there was for the Democratic primary, so the fact that this state is in play says something. Of course, most of the GOP voters went for Romney, with Ron Paul coming in second. At the end of the day, it will be important for Democrats to turn out the voters in Las Vegas if they want to have a hope of winning. Right now, the outlook doesn’t seem so good.
Ohio: Struggling with an economy that has been hard hit by the housing crunch and globalization, Ohioans are looking for more than rhetoric this election season. Add a highly motivated democratic machine that has had some great successes in recent years and Ohio will go democratic this fall.
Colorado: Colorado has been slowly and painstakingly building a Democratic hegemony. Democratic turnout was higher in the primaries than GOP turnout, and most of the votes went to Romney, not McCain. This will be a tough fight, but one that can be won.
New Hampshire: Even though the state handed McCain his first primary victory, New Hampshire is going to be a tough row to hoe for McCain. It’s not that this won’t be a tough fight, but anti-war sentiment is high in New Hampshire, and the addition of Palin to the ticket is not necessarily persuasive to New Hampshire voters, whose conservatism is less about social issues than fiscal ones. New Hampshire probably goes blue in the fall.Virginia: Bob McBarton already did a great analysis of the traditional dynamics of Virginia, how organizing the southwest counties will be the key to success in Virginia. However, the increased turnout one can expect from the African American population in Richmond, and the steady growth of democratic margin in Hampton Roads and Fairfax County are inexorably turning Virginia blue. With the very popular ex-Governor Mark Warner running for Senate on the same ticket, Obama has an even stronger shot of turning Virginia around.
Michigan: With Detroit suffering, economic issues are at the forefront in this state. Primary turnouts are not particularly helpful in this case, due to the rather specific issues in the Democratic ballot. This one is tough to call, but I’m going to have to say this one goes to Obama.
Missouri: If there is one state McCain had in mind when he chose Palin, it was probably Missouri. With a strong contingent of social conservatives in the rural parts of the state, Obama will have to really motivate the urban centers in St. Louis and Kansas City. Democrats did manage to beat Republicans in primary turnout, but Missouri will likely go red this fall.
At the end of the day, elections are not won or lost based on a national poll number. They are won one state, one county, one precinct at a time. Ultimately, that should be our greatest comfort as Democrats going into the last month and a half of this election. Obama has twice the campaign staff, and over six million volunteers spread out in offices in all 50 states. He is running an enviable ground game, with some of the best database techniques and volunteer management anyone’s seen in a long time. Elections are only won if you get more of your guys to the polls than the other candidate does. Precinct operations is how that happens. The big stories on CNN about narrative and personality are significant, but they are not the be all and end all.
The old saw about Democrats is, “when Democrats want to form a firing squad, they make a circle.” Here is where that needs to end. Instead of the endless recriminations and armchair quarterbacking, we need to press on with confidence, and go after McCain not because we’re desperate to prove that we can beat him at his own game, that we can sink into the same gutter he occupies, but because we know that we’ve got better policies, a better candidate, and a better future to offer the country.
Keep your eyes on the prize, people. And watch out who you’re aiming at.