Two weeks ago I wrote a diary in which I said the only issue was going to be the margin in the electoral college. In Going way out on a limb I predicted 370 electoral votes, which is not even close.
Now I wonder if it will even be in the same universe. I just read Derrick Jackson's Boston Globe column entitled Losing hope in Michigan. As David Broder so often used to do, Jackson went out and talked with voters in a key location, and his column is a reflection of what he saw and heard. And it is not just that McCain is losing Michigan, it is who and where he is losing, because Jackson was in Wyoming, Michigan, near Grand Rapids, home of Gerald Ford, and one of the most Republican parts of the state. And he was in a bowling alley.
And reading the column is only part of why I feel as I do.
There are few things more typically working-class white American than the bowling league. And when a 42 year old manager who twice voted for George W. Bush admits he is laughing at himself, and that the war and the economy will have him voting for Obama, it begins to indicate something:
"What was I thinking?" Laskey said. "How many times do I have to be hit over the head? Bush hasn't done anything."
Laskey is one of several men Jackson spoke with, and quotes. Gerry Wojtaszek is a another two-time Bush voter who is switching, and also a manager in his 40s:
"The first time, I felt that the economy would step up under him," Wojtaszek said. "The second time, I was supportive of the war. But the economy's a hell in a handbasket. The war is still going on. I thought about voting for McCain on experience, but with all the time he's been in office, what has he done?"
The last part of that quote really caught my attention, speaking of McCain he says with all the time he's been in office, what has he done? That reminds me of an effective Senate campaign theme used by Jeff Bingaman down in NM when he ran against first term Senator Harrison "Jack" Smith, a one-time astronaut who had walked on the Moon and claims to have taken the famous "Blue Marble" photograph of the earth. Bingaman asked what ON EARTH Schmitt had done, and it bit, with him winning the race by 8 points.
The quote also pointed out how important meaningful change is this cycle. And we are seeing it indicated in a variety of ways. The day McCain's campaign announced it was quitting the Wolverine state, Obama had 16,000 people in a rally in Grand Rapids, which is in Kent County. Jackson tells us
Grand Rapids Press this week reported that compared with 2004, when Bush outraised Kerry in Kent County by four-and-a-half times, McCain has outraised Obama by only double.
And Republican buddies of Laskey who are still supporting McCain are either considering voting for Obama or bothered by the selection of Palin as running mate.
The impact of the economic problems are strongly felt in Michigan. While many auto assembly plants either long ago left the state or were shut down, there are still many companies in Michigan that either supply the auto industry, or are dependent for their income streams from people who work in the industry. The severe drop in auto sales about which we heard a few days ago has hit home with particular force in Michigan. And perhaps many people remember McCain - who likes now to say that he thinks the fundamentals of our economy are strong and America's best days are ahead of it - saying during the primary that they needed to get used to the idea that the good jobs associated with the auto industry were never going to return.
We are beginning to see what could be a massive uprising of people many did not expect to ever even consider voting for Obama. Jackson writes about these workers in the heartland of Michigan. This week we saw coal miners many of whom were NRA members refuse to come back to work one day after the NRA showed up with a film crew trying to get them on record saying bad things about Obama. In the CNN quick poll Thursday night, even though people rated by a 70-24 margin that Biden was more the traditional politician than was Palin, and by a 54-36 margin that Palin was more likable than Biden, 87% said Biden was qualified to be president as compared to only 42% for Palin, and by a 50-44 margin that Biden better understood the problems of people like them.
Perhaps the issue of competence is more salient now because people perceive the nation and the economy are in crisis. The want some indication of steadiness, and for all of his "experience" McCain has demonstrated the opposite of steadiness, whether in his reckless pick of Palin (for all her likability), his helicoptering in to the attempt to craft a bailout, his many contradictory statements (he voted for the bailout bill but were he president he would veto it?). By contrast, we hve seen how unruffled Obama can be and Biden is certainly reassuring.
In the presidential debate, Obama demonstrated sufficient competence on issues of national security, possible the final test he had to meet to assuage fears about his lack of experience compared to McCain. Unlike Dukakis and Kerry, he demonstrated the kind of personal toughness people need to see when he counterpunched McCain during the debate - one of his strongest moments according to the dial group at CNN was his three-fold recitation of things on which McCain was wrong. Similarly, despite a general tendency not to like attacks, people responded well when Obama mentioned the "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" remark in response to McCain telling him he was wrong to openly talk about going in to Pakistan.
Perhaps in reading this you might think that Michigan is sui generis and thus the reactions and perceptions of the voters with whom Jackson talked do not tell us that much about the rest of the country. I would disagree. There are pockets of people all over the country who are experiencing much of what these voters reflect. And those pockets are often heavily populated by people who have tended to tilt Republican, and certainly were more inclined towards Bush than towards Kerry. If they are beginning to move towards Obama, or are this late in the game still open to considering him, the tendency of people to want to vote for a winner makes it ever more likely that a substantial number will break in the direction of Obama and Biden.
McCain's campaign has very few arrows left in the quiver. About all that is left is to be negative, and that is already happening. Greg Sargent of Talking Points Memo wrote a piece yesterday entitled McCain Campaign's Ad Spending Now Nearly 100 Percent Devoted To Attack Ads, which begins like this:
The McCain campaign has now shifted virtually 100 percent of his national ad spending into negative ads attacking Obama, a detailed breakdown of his ad buys reveals.
By contrast, the Obama campaign is devoting less than half of his spending on ads attacking McCain. More than half of its spending is going to a spot that doesn't once mention his foe.
In the past negative ads seemed to be an effective approach. And when a political opponent has not yet defined himself they can severely limit the ability of that opponent to connect with the voters. Going this negative against Obama at this point this cycle will, in my opinion, have a spectacular blowback against McCain. For one thing, Obama has already defined himself. He survived the kitchen sink and other accoutrements toseed by the Clinton campaign during the primary. He successfully disposed of the issue of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers and assorted other associations. And the electorate seems to react more more negatively to such attacks, which do not address the issues that concern them. If you watched either debate on a station with a dial group, every time McCain or Palin went negative they lost badly among key demographcis, either independents or women.
Given the role that Steve Schmidt has in McCain's campaign, I fully expect that we will see ever more negative advertising, remarks in public addresses, and the like. Obama and Biden do need to respond, but they can use the nature of those attacks to point out how unconcerned with the problems of Main Stree and ordinary people the Republicans are. Given the skill, the adroitness, and the rapidity already demonstrated by Plouffe, Axelrod and company, and Obama's own quickness of mind, this is not something that concerns me.
And the narrative has begun to set. Yes, idiots like Rich Lowry may have their fantasies of being winked at by Palin, but when Charles Krauthammer writes that Obama has both the intelligence and temperament to be president, is he not at least by implication implying that the candidates on the Republican side each lack one or perhaps both of those necessary characteristics?
I have no idea how the debate Tuesday will play out. McCain had been demanding Town Hall meetings back in the summer because he believes that it is his best forum. As compared to formal speaking and debates, I would agree that he is far superior in that environment. But consider Obama - anyone who has watched him in such a setting knows how well he connects with the people asking the questions, how his body language and persona draw people in.
In the first debate Obama met the test of being sufficiently prepared to be entrusted with the security of the nation. He also met two other tests. I have mentioned that he demonstrated sufficient toughtness: Michael Dukakis lost in part because he did not defend himself and the concern of the American people is that someone who would not stand up for himself could not be trusted to stand up for them.
But there is a third test: are people prepared to have this candidate coming into their living rooms over television for the next four years? Are they willing to have to listen to what he has to say? That first debate made people more comfortable on that level with Obama. The second convinced those watching that Biden is enough of an ordinary Joe, or if you will a "Joe Six-Pack," that come an emergency they would be similarly comfortable with him. I fully expect that a Town Hall format will nail that down.
And by the way, going heavily negative in a Town Hall format can be catastrophic, as can talking about what you want to talk about rather than what the people ask. That is a real danger for McCain on Tuesday.
I can look at individual states beyond Michigan, and see the race hardening. A ten part margin in NH in a poll by Rasmussen says that McCain is in deep doo-doo. I think Virginia is now a done deal, that with additional registration North Carolina and Indiana may well be going our way. I feel ever more confident that the popular vote margin will not tighten significantly: 5 percent nation wide now seems to be a floor for Obama. And given that McCain's ceiling seems to be about 45% and that it is hard to imagine in an increased electorate that the minor candidates will draw much more than 2%, that would mean Obama would win by at least 6%. I increasingly think a double digit national margin is likely. And at 10 points or more, Obama will not only win more than 400 Electoral votes, he will come into office with at least 10 more Senators.
The electorate is expanding. We know about the black vote. We know about the enthusiasm of young people. Most of us have taken that into consideration as we evaluate the race. Perhaps we add a point or two to the margins in polls that we believe do not take this into account. Perhaps it is only sufficient that we cease worrying about the so-called Bradley effect.
But those are not the only groups that are registering, and increased registration will not help McCain: after all, those available to be registered on social issues were often already placed on the rolls as a result of the many initiatives against Gay Marriage in recent cycles.
There is something else happening. So let me return to Jackson, for one final snip:
Ken Koster, a 50-year-old division supervisor for a food distributor, has not been a registered voter for 14 years. He says he's registering to vote for Obama.
"I'm tired of killing myself for nothing," he said. "The $700 billion bailout is the final straw. When are they going to bail US out?"
Yes, Obama supported the bailout, but he has credibility in saying he will modify it when he is in office, whereas McCain, whose campaign is full of people who lobbied for the financial services industry and who has a long-time antipathy towards meaningful regulation, does not.
People like Ken Koster do not register and then not vote. There are perhaps several million like that around the country, white people who were unregistered or at best indifferent voters, now registering and committing to voting. If they are going to break in Obama's direction, this will be an election historic not only the racial background of the man who will win, but in the size of the victory that may well be upon us.
That's what I think. What do you think?