Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What's the Matter With Pennsylvania?

Several of my favorite electronic columnists are out with new articles on the perplexing insistence by McCain/Palin that they remain competitive in Pennsylvania. While their surrogates have variously responded to the notion that the ticket is effectively giving up on Colorado (together with Iowa, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Hampshire), the money figures can't lie--and the campaign has told Colorado television stations to spread this week's advertising buy over the final two weeks of the campaign, instead. Something you don't do if you're planning to fight for every last vote in a state. So where is that money going to be spent, again? In Pennsylvania? A state that Obama is leading by twelve points at the moment, and whose regression line prediction is that of a 9.7-point Obama win?

The best summary of the popular theories for why McCain would continue to insist on Pennsylvania in this fashion is probably the one appearing on fivethirtyeight.com:

  • McCain/Palin are trying to break the narrative that says they have to run the table on Bush states that appear poised to flip, by putting a big Kerry state in play, too
  • McCain/Palin are preparing to play the race card, and that tactic won't fly in Colorado
  • The campaign saw an internal poll that was more favorable--or at least had a more favorable trendline--than the public polling we've been seeing from a half-dozen sources

The beauty of the fivethirtyeight piece is that it also goes on to elucidate the pitfalls with any of these hypothetical justifications for sinking resources into the Keystone State:

  • The narrative that McCain has to thread the needle will itself make it harder for him to close the gap in a safe-Obama state, by dampening local Republican enthusiasm
  • The race card may alienate potentially low-hanging Democrats, and there are more registered Democrats in Pennsylvania than Republicans and independents, combined
  • The internal polls are just as susceptible to outlier-status, and, at the very least, have their own margins-of-error through which they can distort the true competitiveness of a state

But for all its thoughtful airing of the subject, though, the fivethirtyeight piece misses one, crucial point about the Pennsylvania decision: It's only an even-up trade.

If McCain/Palin really do abandon Colorado, New Mexico, and Iowa, once and for all, then they have lost three Bush states that total 21 electoral votes. Exactly 21. Not 22, not 20, but 21, right on the nose. The significance of that number? It's the same exact total of electoral votes that they would theoretically put into play by closing the gap in Pennsylvania. That means that this entire strategy--er, sorry, this entire tactic--could even work, and still cost McCain the election. If he wins PA and loses CO, NM, and IA in the bargain, he still loses if he can't win-back Virginia and Nevada (by themselves), or Indiana and Missouri (by themselves), or North Carolina and any one of the above-listed (by themselves), or Ohio (by itself), or Florida (by itself), and he is presently trailing in ALL OF THESE. Against this backdrop, the elaborate explanations for McCain's Pennsylvania gambit would seem un-necessary--the move seems, rather, to be one of simple, garden-variety desperation. He has to show that he's closing somewhere, in order for his surrogates to make the case that he's closing at all.

At all events, McCain/Palin has already informed the RNC that they will be separating their television budget from now until November 4th--the upside being that they can focus their message on their own candidate, with the obvious downside that they will lose the leverage they've been getting out of their paltry resources. This can, it is argued, be interpreted as an early warning sign that the already ugly campaign is about to get a lot uglier.

There is, of course, the usual round of incoming for the progressively more-and-more hapless McCain/Palin ticket, most of it at the hands of its VP nominee, once again. In the past twenty-four hours, it has been revealed that the RNC purchased $150,000 worth of outfits for her to wear on the campaign trail, that while out on that trail she has been quietly charging the State of Alaska for the campaign-related travel of her own children, and, in an interview conducted yesterday with CNN, that she still doesn't know that the Vice President has no real power over the functioning of the United States Senate.

The candidate himself, meanwhile has ham-fistedly echoed his polarizing running-mate's comments about the "Pro-America portions" of various states, notably Pennsylvania, and also may expect the forthcoming New York Times Magazine to contain the startling confession, from an as-yet unnamed but senior campaign official, that "for better or for worse [the McCain campaign] has been fought from tactic-to-tactic." Here's a hint, oh hallowed, unnamed, senior McCain campaign official: it's for worse. Trust us.

On the only front that really matters, early voting is underway in essentially all of the important states, and the early returns on those votes are startlingly and ubiquitously pro-Obama. He is leading in early-vote exit polling in places as improbable as Georgia, and veritably clobbering McCain in the shouldn't-be-battlegrounds of Virginia and North Carolina. Best of all, whatever Joe Biden tries to do to sink his boss from a campaign stage between now and November 4th, those votes have already been cast, and they're giving the Good Guys an improbably large cushion against further Bidenesque fuck-ups. The race has solidified in the neighborhood of a ten-point lead for Obama/Biden, and it will take a lot more than Joe-being-Joe, or Joe The Plumber, either one, to change it. Barring an unprecedented turn of events (or an unprecedented fraud), Barack Obama is your next President.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida

4 comments:

phs said...

Pennsylvania also doesn't have, as far as I can tell, no-excuses early voting. So any gains McCain can make between now and Nov. 4 he can actually keep, as opposed to other states where a bunch of the vote has already been cast.

shabec said...

I have a question for everyone: who decided and how was it decided that the Republicans would be red, and the Dems blue? Doesn't this hark rather painfully back to the bad old days of the 60's when there was the red scare, red-baiting, "better red than dead". It is a proven fact that more people prefer the color blue. I mean it couldn't happen to a more deserving group, but gosh.
The other question is did anybody see the USA today that had an ad for 7-11 stores, and their political coffee mugs were OB--60% and McSame--40%. Of course, all the major news networks harp on the ACORN voter fraud constantly so McPain can claim an illegitimate election.

Brian B said...

Has anyone considered a move by Republican's to sit this election out since they don't like the McCain/Palin ticket?

There are likely some of these folks on the Democratic side, but I would suspect that the numbers would be dramatically lower compared to the GOP.

Mark O said...

Shabec,

There's an interesting New York Times article which outlines the development of this color coding.

It appears that as recently as 1984 the colors were reversed, and the Republican party was represented by the color blue; Democrats red.