Friday, October 31, 2008

While I'm Driving People to the Polls...

The Key Grip will be incommunicado all day, volunteering for the Obama campaign (specifically, driving a van back and forth from the University of Florida to the early voting station downtown). So in lieu of a column this morning, how about we all take a (second?) gander at Barack Obama's thirty minute television program from Wednesday night? It was extremely effective-- probably enough so to give a last late bounce to Obama's numbers.

Meanwhile a new CBS News / New York Times poll says that Sarah Palin is now an unqualified drag on McCain's chances of becoming President (even before releasing those medical records, which still hasn't happened), and state-level polling shows Obama with double-digit leads in Colorado and New Mexico. Lest we forget in all the excitement about places like Missouri, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana, Barack Obama doesn't need any of the latter group to become President: John Kerry's total from 2004, plus Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado, adds up to 273 electoral votes.

Don't forget to vote!

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

Thursday, October 30, 2008

On Palin's Records, Contact All Media Outlets

There will be a longer, more comprehensive column later today covering a variety of subjects--not least among them the amazing thirty-minute program for Barack Obama that aired on seven networks yesterday evening, and its likely effects on the race. But this morning I'd like to talk to you about something a little more urgent.

Governor Palin promised last weekend to release her medical records this past Monday. It is now Thursday, and inescapably obvious that she is desperately hoping to stonewall the question until after it would matter to anybody. I am therefore calling on all loyal readers to use the links below to contact the major news-gathering institutions, asking that the McCain campaign be continually asked about this contradiction until we obtain access to the records.
New York Times (this one is an e-mail link)
CBS News (scroll down to the bottom and click "contact us")
ABC News
Los Angeles Times (middle of the page, "e-mail specific news departments")
Time Magazine (another e-mail link, address to "Mark Halperin")
NBC / MSNBC (both are e-mail links)
Anchorage Daily News (e-mails to Erika Bolstad - Washington Bureau)
Chicago Tribune (couldn't get the text verification to work)
Associated Press

Since most of these "contact us" fields are undoubtedly inundated every day with self-marginalizing content, it's essential that we keep the message crisp, polite, and obvious in its intent from the first word, and that as many people as possible join the effort, sending the same message repeatedly, all day long, until the records are released. If telephone calls are within your "bravery level," most of these contact pages also have telephone numbers, too, and this could prove even more effective.

Five days to go!

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

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Dance of the Seven Death Rattles

It's easy for us to forget that most Presidential elections aren't particularly competitive. Typically by this point in a campaign one candidate is pretty-well dependent on the fickle finger of current events to change his fortunes, and typically they don't. And when these things become apparent, even to opinion leaders within that candidate's party, even within the campaign itself, there follows a sort of dance of the seven death rattles in which a clear philosophical trend emerges, away from securing victory and toward explaining away defeat.

It begins with the "hail Mary" death rattle. The trailing candidate holds a secret pow-wow with his inner circle and the group of them decide on a bold move to "shake up the dynamic" of the election. These bold moves rarely work under the best of circumstances, especially if timed too far down the calendar to be accepted on good faith by the persuadable middle--but in election 2008 the supposedly "steady hand at the tiller" has undertaken not one but several such extreme, inaptly timed gambles, most of them coming across to an increasingly distrustful press pool as rash, impulsive, and fraught with contingent down-side. Chief among this host of questionable calls were the two biggest decisions by the Republican operation this season--McCain's two "three-A.M. moments," as it were--the choice of Sarah Palin and the decision to "suspend the campaign," both of which are now all but universally derided as excessively long risks.

There follows the "tough choices" death rattle, in which the struggling campaign announces its reluctant decision to pull out of some high-profile battleground (like Michigan), to concentrate on a smaller electoral map. There's never a good time to make such an announcement, of course, since a not inconsiderable swathe of persuadables will shift into the other camp out of simple fear that they might be seen backing a loser--but the story of election-2008 will almost certainly contain at least a passing mention to McCain's inexplicable timing for their team's call to abandon such a big and relatively competitive electoral prize. And in case you've forgotten, they made this announcement about three hours before Sarah Palin was to appear on a national debate platform opposite Joe Biden.

Next we have the "biased access" death rattle. The trailing campaign, having found itself in a self-amplifying cycle of lower fundraising totals, followed by sinking polls, followed by lower fundraising totals, endeavors to paint the other side as an advertising bully who won't let the scrappy underdogs be heard on the television airwaves. "Senator Obama signed a piece of paper saying he'd accept public financing if I did," McCain has said on numerous occasions--despite the fact that no such piece of paper was ever signed by Mr. Obama, and he knows it, "and now that he's broken that promise, he's out-advertising us four-to-one." Setting aside the fact that the RNC was still free to raise as much money as it wished, and could have spent all of that helping McCain become President, consider instead how this statement sounds to a fence-riding observer. I don't know about you, but if I were still trying to pick a candidate, this comment would not inspire me to shift my allegiances squarely in the direction of the man doing the complaining.

It should also be noted that this year the Republicans have introduced a chilling twist to this "we lost because we couldn't get a word in" pre-explanation: the idea that their loss is the direct result of ballot-stuffing by ACORN. There is simply no evidence, not a scintilla, that ACORN's system of paying volunteers for collecting registrations could ever have resulted in a single fraudulent vote being cast, but this hasn't stopped the extremist right-wing opinion leaders from their coordinated campaign to de-legitimize an Obama Presidency before it even begins.

Somewhere along the line the trailing campaign gives-in to the "biased media coverage" death rattle, of course. This is an increasingly time-honored tactic with Republican campaigns, who seem to get more traction with their own base than Democrats do, when claiming that the press is some monolithic body that has one impenetrable agenda for tilting the story of the election. The problems inherent in this move are two-fold: First, it only sways people engaged enough in the election to corroborate the claim against their own perceptions, which automatically rules-out any of the people the trailing candidate would have to win over. Nobody who's still undecided about who to vote for in this election has formed an independent conclusion that Mr. McCain is being treated unfairly by the press. But the bigger risk is that this complaint is dangerously self-fulfilling: the more acrimonious a candidate's relationship with his own traveling press corps, the less likely that press corps is to "give him a pass" when the time comes.

A word or two also seems in order on the subject of whether the claim is particularly justified or not in this election. Several reports have been recently publicized, chronicling a higher percentage of unfavorable news stories being reported about the McCain campaign than about the Obama campaign, and this has prompted even some neutral to left-leaning columnists to speculate on the question of whether Mr. McCain is being treated unfairly in the media. He isn't. When one of two campaigns is behaving in a way that is structurally and consistently more odious than the other, and less competently to boot, impartiality in the reporting of the campaign demands a proportionate allocation of unfavorable stories about that campaign. If by contrast Senator Obama was getting just as much bad press about his commercials as McCain got for the one claiming Obama wanted to teach sex education to kindergarteners, the press would actually be biasing the coverage in favor of Senator McCain, by suggesting that the two teams have behaved in a way that is equally dishonorable--which flatly isn't true.

As the matter becomes more and more entrenched (and time grows shorter), the death rattles become that much more difficult to spin. The inflection point, I would argue, is the "we'll win anyway" death rattle. The polls aren't acurately reflecting the state of the race, we are led to believe, since the candidate's internal numbers show a race that is much closer. Segments of certain states (the "real" places in those states, apparently) are being under-polled, there is hidden resentment for the leading candidate among undecided voters, and in the end the turnout war will favor the trailing candidate and the media will be left on election night with the monumental task of peeling a thousand-pound omelet from its collective face, for having called the matter too early for the front-runner.

For this tradition we may thank the anonymous copywriter who penned "Dewey Defeats Truman," but if 1948 seems increasingly like a long time ago, there's a good reason for that: The front-runner in this election is the one likely to benefit from all factors that would otherwise suggest hidden support. Exclusive cell-phone usage is disproportionately young and Democratic, and even pollsters who claim to be reaching these individuals are probably getting screened by most of the people who would say that they were voting for Obama. As has been widely publicized, the Democrat has committed huge resources into his field operations, and is already out-performing his own polling numbers in early voting--something Democrats have never done before in the short history of voting before election day.

Once the die has truly been cast in this fashion, the collapse begins to take on its own momentum, notably in the sixth of the seven acts, the "down-ticket treason" death rattle. I can still remember being nervous about the outcome of the 1992 Presidential election in its final days, until I saw a story about the decision that had been made by the Senatorial campaign of Alfonse D'Amoto to print up buttons saying, "I'm voting for Clinton and D'Amato!" and after that moment I knew without any further doubt that Bill Clinton would be our next President. The same thing apparently happened, in reverse, in a significant number of down-ticket races in 1980--even before Mr. Reagan trounced Jimmy Carter in their one and only debate. This year's installment? Appointed Senator Roger Wicker, of Mississippi, running so scared for his own reelection that he has produced a series of commercials in which African-Americans extole the virtue of casting a ballot for Obama and Wicker--in some sort of alternate universe where African-Americans would be caught dead voting for Roger Wicker, even on a bet.

The last of the death rattles is of course the biggest and (this year, at least) the most sinfully pleasing one to watch: the "blame game death rattle." As the outcome becomes obvious to even the most seasoned veterans of campaign comebacks, the first true calling of every politician--that of advancing his or her own fortunes--begins bubbling up to the surface, and in short order the highest-placed operatives and surrogates are sending unattributed or semi-attributed signals that the impending doom is not their fault. "In the movies, when there's a crisis, everyone is shown running around, giving orders, shouting into telephones," Henry Kissinger once said, when commenting on the fall of Saigon. "In a real crisis, what actually happens is that everyone is in his foxhole, and occasionally tosses up a message that he wasn't responsible."

In McCain/Palin land there have been several high-level and high-profile incidents over the past, most crucial week, of people taking time off from rallying the campaign to stab each other in the back--most notably with respect to Sarah Palin and the decision to add her to the ticket. The most damning of these (so far) may be the unattributed quote provided to Politico by a "senior McCain adviser," describing Sarah Palin as a "whack job"--a term that doesn't afford much hope for Administrative cohesion if Mr. McCain should indeed pull a rabbit out of a hat next Tuesday. Indeed the dissension would seem to have spilled over to the candidates themselves, at least according to political columnist Robert Draper, who claims that McCain and Palin sat a few feet away from each other on a long bus-ride between campaign appearances in Florida, without McCain speaking a single word to Palin or even acknowledging her physical reality there. "It was embarrassing for those sitting nearby," remarked one staffer who was present aboard the bus, in words that amount to an early candidate for understatement of the century.

Meanwhile, of course, the polls continue to recede from McCain with the very swiftness with which they would have needed to close, for him to have a chance. In the most recent batch of battleground polling, McCain trails by seven in Ohio and Virginia, nine in Colorado, and an eye-bulging twelve points, not just in Pennsylvania, but also in Nevada, which Battleground had been rating as a toss-up as recently as two weeks ago. Governor Palin still hasn't released her medical records, despite having promised to do so this past Monday, and Mr. Obama's thirty-minute program to seal the deal has not yet aired (it's scheduled for Wednesday). And so as we pause to savor the seven death rattles of the McCain/Palin candidacy, it's worth remembering that best death rattle of all, the eighth one, is the one we get to watch together on the evening of November 4th: The McCain/Palin concession speeches.

The only question now is, will they deliver them together?

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

Monday, October 27, 2008

A picture is worth a lot of column space

You may or may not be familiar with the website, which is one of several that take a daily whip count of the electoral votes that each candidate would secure if the election were today. (Incidentally, fivethirtyeight is a superior site, if in this respect only, in that it's the only one that I am aware of that uses econometric inference to regress this data and project a winner on November 4th.)

One of the things that electoral-vote has added to its site since its inception during the 2004 contest, is a line graph showing both candidates' support in the electoral college--both with- and without the "leaners." The implicit argument goes, if either candidate shows a clear trend in electoral vote support, minus the closely-polling states, then that will tell a great deal about the underlying structure of the race without all the day-to-day noise.

So here then is the line graph of electoral college support for Barack Obama and John McCain, without leaners, from mid-March to the present day:

You will perhaps have noticed a few things: First, except for McCain's convention bounce, the clear trend-line for Obama has been inexorably upward. Not even the Paris Hilton ad, and the ten-day vacation that Obama took in Hawaii while it was running, made more than an insignificant dent in his consolidated electoral tally. In non-leaner states, he's been trending up all year. Second, while Obama has apparently been pulling leaner-states into non-leaner status (leading to yet more invocations of the exhausting "close the deal" expression), McCain has been losing his solid-vote count, particularly since the Lehman collapse and his "fundamentals are strong" gaffe--which may well be the only thing anyone ever remembers about this race, in another few years. Third, and entirely by the way, Obama's support without leaners adds up to significantly more than 270 electoral votes.

While the McCain team is arguing about when and whether to release Sarah Palin's medical records (latest word is that they'll be issued later today--Monday, October 27--though such promises have been made and broken before), while they're discussing how to reply to the devastating Sunday New York Times article, while they're finger-pointing over the issue of who leaked the fact that they were finger-pointing, Barack Obama continues to strengthen his grip on this contest in a manner that has impressed even many Republicans. At the moment Mr. McCain isn't even leading outside the margin-of-error in his home state of Arizona, and with the dubious assumptions being brought to the polling of this contest, particularly with respect to who is- and is not a "likely voter," the eventual margin could well be significantly larger.

As reported yesterday, Mr. Obama's crowds continue to dwarf those of McCain/Palin rallies (he had another eye-popper yesterday in Denver), and in a mainstream press that has spent much of the past three months trying to hold the matter artificially close, the topic has shifted to just how badly the down-ticket Republicans will be clobbered by the final act of McCain's ritual sepukku in the Capitol Hill parking lot. Stu Rothenberg has continually revised downward his House GOP head-count, and across the Capitol there is grave talk that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell himself may go down to defeat in Kentucky, if Obama's wave extends far enough into southern Appalachia to swing working-class independents in the Bluegrass State.

And so, as we await those Palin medical records, as early voting continues to show massive advantages for Team Blue from coast to coast, and as Senator Obama prepares to make his "closing argument" in a speech to be delivered later today in Ohio, the rest of us are left casting about for something poignant to say about the matter that won't sound tautological or redundant or both. So how's this for poignant: Sunday, the day that Senator McCain was failing to name the fifth Secretary of State who support his candidacy on Meet the Press, was the forty-first anniversary of the day McCain was shot down the first time--over Vietnam.

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

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Who's That Fifth Secretary of State, Again?

With nine days to go--hurrah!--the last thing Mr. McCain needed for his Sunday talk show agenda-setting was a potpourri of further embarrassments. (And is it just a failure of imagination on the part of your intrepid columnist, or is this stuff getting harder and harder to write about without sounding repetitive?)

The big news of the cycle was of course the widely publicized report that Governor Sarah Palin has decided to deal with her frustrations and her impending status as scapegoat for McCain's eventual defeat by "going rogue"--though regular readers of this or any other political column might be inclined to wonder just what is meant by the word "going," in this context. The story, juicy in its detail and so sinful for Democrats to read that, let's face it, it just has to be fattening, is that Steve Schmidt and his ilk are believed by Palin's own circle (she has a circle?) to have hung their fair-haired gal out to dry: They botched her roll-out, so goes the argument, they put too many of her press-contact eggs in baskets belonging to old media friends who couldn't be trusted, they deliberately leaked the clothing story to embarrass her, and they haven't let her say what she wants to from the stump.

...And never mind that, when she does say what she wants, it's that she still doesn't understand the role of the Vice President in "overseeing" the Senate, she quasi-intentionally refers to the ticket as "I and John McCain," and, perhaps most interestingly, she admits that the energy pipeline deal for which she's supposed to be getting all of this executive-leadership credit was actually a no-bid contract.

Of course Mr. McCain has been doing himself no great favors, of late. Saturday also saw a story, under-reported only because there was so much else to write about, describing John McCain's c.2000 defense of progressive income taxes against the charge of socialism. McCain, always the unflappable, steady hand at the tiller, chose to follow the release of this story with a Sunday-morning performance on Meet the Press, during which he found himself unable to name all five of the Secretaries of State who have endorsed his candidacy--despite having brought the subject up, himself.

BROKAW: Were you surprised by Secretary of State Colin Powell's endorsement of Senator Obama?

McCAIN: "I'm disappointed in General Powell, but I'm very, very happy to know that FIVE former secretaries of states who I admire enormously -- Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, Larry Eagleburger, Al Haig, uh, uh, uh, ah -- Jim Baker, Henry Kissinger, Al Haig, Larry Eagleburger, uh, [sighs] and one other, and over 200 retired flag ... generals and admirals are supporting my candidacy. I'm VERY proud of their support."

BROKAW: "Senator, we opened today with how you're doing in Iowa. The Des Moines Register has endorsed [Obama] ..."

McCAIN: "George Shultz! George Shultz is the other one. George, [laughing] I'm sorry I left you out to start with. George Shultz is a great, one of the great secretaries of state in history. Anyway, go ahead. I'm sorry."

The sum-and-substance of this bizarrely swift, all but pathetic unraveling of fortunes for Senator McCain has been three-fold: First, it has become what civil engineers call a "self-amplifying vibration," wherein the more behind the campaign appears to be, the more shrill its rhetoric and, by that measure, the more likely it is to alienate a couple of undecided voters in New Mexico.

Second, it's beginning to lead to some unlikely choices of subject among Republican talking-heads, viz. Rudy Guliani suggesting that the journalistic impulse leading to Joe the Plumber's tax lien ought to be investigated as a criminal conspiracy, or Campbell Brown of CNN suggesting that anyone in the universe other than she should care right now about the New York Governor's Chief of Staff being late on his income taxes. Of course, the only subject any of the rest of us are talking about just gets less and less comfortable for the Rudy Guliani's and the Campbell Browns of the world: the RNC's latest anti-Obama ad, for instance, is quite possibly the least effectual and most self-evidently desperate campaign commercial this author can remember since at least the days of Fritz Mondale showing stock footage of ICBM's being launched.

But by far the largest single impact of such a precipitous and trans-national collapse of Republican fortunes is to leave the nation's pollsters in something of a lurch--particularly with respect to just how big Mr. Obama's eventual victory may end up being. There is hard evidence to suggest, for example, that Obama is trouncing Mr. McCain in early voting in Nevada, where the trend in Washoe and Clark Counties (the only ones where anybody actually lives) is so decisive as to raise serious doubts about the assorted "likely voter" screens that have been used by pollsters to reflect only semi-immoderate leads for Team Blue in an assortment of other places.

Suffice it to say, if early Nevada voters are a legitimate indication of just how over this election already is, then it has been over for some time now and will only become more so, to the potential embarrassment of soberly industrious, for-profit businesses out there whose job it is to predict the closeness of the race. Nate Silver of reports that Mr. Obama has already banked "several hundred thousand" more early votes than Mr. McCain--in North Carolina, which, depending on how one defines the word "several," could constitute a larger advantage than that by which Mr. Bush carried the entire state in 2004. Florida, as previously reported in these columns, is currently breaking for Obama by a margin of 2-to-1 in early voting. Ohio is running at a slightly less eye-popping pace, but still comfortably in favor of Team Good-Guys.

Indeed nobody's even showing up at McCain/Palin rallies anymore. Within twenty-four hours of Senator Obama having drawn 50,000 supporters to an event in Albuquerque, a McCain rally in the same city was estimated by the campaign itself to have attracted 1,400--while the journalists in the audience pegged the audience at fewer than 1,000, many of whom were high school students.

Worst of all for the Republicans is the fore-ordained advantage that Mr. Obama will have in the coming days' news coverage, beginning with the ever-more-anticipated and repeatedly stonewalled release of Governor Palin's medical records. All unsavory speculations aside (and as loyal readers know I'm particularly fond of a doozie, in this department), it seems safe to presume that Ms. Palin would not have reversed herself several times on the subject of making these records public if she hadn't been privately hoping against hope that the issue would go away. Within a day either side of this foolishly built-up event will come Barack Obama's half-hour television buy, deemed by the whizzes at Saturday Night Live as the "Obama variety show," but which will surely dominate coverage for at least one more of the precious few remaining days' coverage of the election, if not slam the door the rest of the way in McCain's face. ...And all the while, those merciless polls just keep slipping farther and farther out of reach. Obama is up by nine in Virginia (even with a suspect "likely voter" screen), by twelve in Colorado, and there are even signs that McCain could lose in his home state of Arizona, where he currently leads by only five.

ABC News / Time Magazine Mark Halperin said, in the waning days of the 2004 Presidential election, "When you're behind, you have to win every day." And if that seems like a daunting task for a campaign about to lose one day's news on Palin's records and another to Obama's thirty minutes of television, consider the fact that, for well over two weeks now, McCain/Palin haven't actually won any.

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

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On Election 2008's Remaining Undecided Voters

"A flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. 'Can I interest you in the chicken?' she asks. 'Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?'

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked."

-David Sedaris
The New Yorker, October 27th ed. Click Here to Read More...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Weld on Obama, Lieberman on Palin, and thou

Another should-have-been-slow Friday turned out to be anything but, and once again McCain might just as well have preferred it a little slower. To begin with there was the sordid (and quite probably sad) story of McCain Campaign volunteer in Pittsburgh, Ashley Todd from Texas, who was supposedly attacked by an Obama supporter, who allegedly carved a backwards "B" into her cheek--a story so gripping for its potential pathos that the young woman in question received personal telephone calls from both Governor Palin (first, interestingly), and later by John McCain. All fine, made-for-TV drama that could easily have raised new questions about Mr. Obama's impact on race relations... until, that is, Ms. Todd turned out on Friday morning to be an attention-hungry liar.

Within hours the news that she had recanted the entire incident was splashed all over the Mainstream Media like cheap after-shave, and right-leaning pundits like John Moody, Executive Vice President for News at Fox News, were having to explain away some pretty awkward quotes they'd made on the subject. "If Ms. Todd's allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists (with due respect to Rep. John Murtha), but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee," Mr. Moody had scribed on his network website blog the previous evening. "But if the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting."

Moody, incidentally, has brushed aside the suggestion that he should now formally declare McCain's quest for the presidency to be over, saying, "Thank goodness the reporting of the story on Fox News was more accurate than my own blog." Late-breaking word in this matter is that Ms. Todd will be criminally charged, which can't possibly be a happy ending for anybody, least of all the guy running for President who showed the poor judgment to call her on the telephone before she'd been vetted.

There was also a second day of incoming from the Palin/Wardrobe scandal, with Friday's wrinkle being that Palin's stylist was paid more--significantly more, if it comes to that--than her senior policy adviser. If there was any good news for McCain in this particular story's two-day legs, it might be that hairstylist-gate had the unanticipated effect leaving no room on the stage for the news that Palin and her husband gave Friday depositions in the Troopergate matter, or for the story that Palin, as Governor, has appointed campaign benefactors to key positions in State Government. More than 100 such appointments to state posts -- nearly 1 in 4 of the total -- have thus far been awarded to campaign contributors or their relatives during Palin's tenure, sometimes without apparent regard to qualifications.

Curiously, it seemed Friday was the day for other members of the McCain/Palin entourage to finally grow so envious of Palin's gaffe-sprinkled stage presence that they had to join in embarrassing the ticket: It was reported that, in a fit of pique that can only lead to further questions about the candidate's own temperament, John McCain's brother Joe had recently become so frustrated with a northern Virginia traffic jam that he twice called the 9-1-1 emergency switchboard to complain.

Just what Mr. McCain expected the 9-1-1 operators to do about the traffic jam is anyone's guess, but it is the second call that merits the bulk of the sober reflection, since it came after a 9-1-1 supervisor had dialed-back McCain's cell phone to warn him about abusing the emergency lines. That's right, folks: Joe McCain dialed 9-1-1 to complain about traffic, was warned that doing so constituted a crime, and then called 9-1-1 again to complain about having been warned.

Then there was the story that Joe the Plumber is contemplating a run for Congress in 2010--which embarrasses McCain only to the extent that (a) his hypothetical candidacy was running at about a 10% approval rating in the insta-poll on CNN's main page Friday afternoon and (b) it would seem that Joe is interested enough in politics to run for office, but not, somehow, interested enough to appear on a campaign stage with his principal benefactor, who spent all day Friday barnstorming Florida without him.

Perhaps a different "Joe" would embarrass his fair-haired candidate a little less? Surely that's what the campaign High Command must have thought when they dispatched Joe Lieberman to an interview with the Stamford Advocate. And what, exactly did Joe the Senator deliver? How about saying, on the record, "Thank God that Sarah Palin won't have to be President from Day One."

Under the increasingly weighty file of Republican crossover endorsements, the Friday news cycle began under the spell of Scott McClellan's unexpected coming-out for Senator Obama, and, at the opposite end of the day, found time in its busy schedule of body-blows to McCain to make room for a second-such endorsement by Republican and former Governor of Massachusetts, William Weld. And if Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis were planning to counter with an unexpected endorsement for their candidate too, then presumably they hadn't anticipated that the endorsement would be coming from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, both of whom, it was confirmed at the Friday White House press conference, voted by absentee ballot for McCain.

On the election-deathwatch front, a poll conducted by the St. Petersburg Times showed seven points' cushion for Obama in Florida, while an ABC News report indicates that early votes cast in the Sunshine State have thusfar broken for Obama by a staggering 2:1 margin. Obama is also clobbering McCain in early voting in West Virginia, a state whose polling numbers have been erratic but which was supposed to be a bastion of (soft?) support for Team Red. A new Public Policy Poll in Ohio shows Obama seven points up there, as well--which is a bit lower than Battleground's eye-popper from Thursday, but still an awfully steep hill for McCain to climb in a little over a week.

As we await the Sunday New York Times piece that is expected to portray a McCain inner circle in near-total disarray, many of the most likely indicators one might expect in such circumstances are already self-evident and affirmative. The blame game has begun in earnest, to a degree that has led one senior Republican to describe what will happen next as a circular firing-squad. As-yet unattributed quotes from deep inside Team Crankypants have ranged from "it's not a happy place right now," at one extreme, to "the cake is baked," at--well, at the same extreme, really. In Mississippi, embattled Republican Senatorial candidate Roger Wicker is running ads in which African-Americans espouse their support for Wicker and Obama, a tell-tale signal left over from Democratic candidates tying their names to Reagan in 1980, with equally ominous overtones for the fortunes of the incumbent-party candidate. Even the McCain himself recently announced that he will not be appearing inside the tent at his own election night party, but will instead speak to a handful of reporters from someplace outside the tent, his remarks to be callously and anonymously relayed to a group of tireless and mostly un-thanked volunteers via closed circuit.

Truly, our long and arduous self-inflicted torture is at last coming to an end. Neither election fraud of the sort that has been so thoroughly documented from 2000 and 2004, nor the sudden traction of a single economic message about smaller government and lower tax burdens, will seem anything but far too little, far too late, by the time this race is formally written into the history books next Tuesday. The black-box shenanigans of Republican vote-stealers will overcome a 1%- or 2% margin, but no more than that--and surely not in states whose Governors' Mansions are occupied by Democrats. The smaller government message, meanwhile, has already rung cruelly hollow with an electorate hungry for increased fiduciary oversight and a renewed commitment to economic justice. If these two gambits are all that are left for us to talk about, it's only because they are all Mr. McCain has left, period. The two most reputable of the rightward-leaning polling firms--Gallup and Rassmussen--both have McCain down by seven points as of Friday night, a deficit from which no candidate for President has ever come back, in history.

Indeed, if one requires just that little bit of extra proof as to just how far out of reach this race has gotten for John McCain, consider that Politico's "who won the day" contest was called for Barack Obama on Friday--a day in which the candidate wasn't even on the stump.

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

Thursday, October 23, 2008

McCain's "Dead Cat Bounce"

In the world of high finance (a world in which two dear friends of mine have made considerable fortunes, while I sit down here in Gainesville, Florida, teaching community college), there are many darling terms of insider-slang, most of them dripping with the very sort of droll, gallows humor that one might expect from a room full of people too rich and too smart for their own good. The all-time champion (though, I believe, apocryphal) example of this is the assertion that the company "New England Screw and Bolt" was referred to in trading circles as Love 'em and Leave 'em.

Our high-finance slang term for this morning, however, is dead cat bounce. It's a term used to describe the interesting phenomenon by which a stock or other financial asset that has seen its value drop precipitously will, at some indeterminate point, enjoy a brief and completely unjustified rally--as a certain segment of the market moves in to buy it, thinking they've spotted a bargain. (One of those wealthy friends of mine spent all last week buying stocks, for example--but I love him far, far too much to gloat about it, so I won't even bring it up in print, here.) When this happens, when the asset in question makes this temporary little up-tick on its journey the rest of the way down the toilet, the high-financiers of the Wall Street world refer to it as a dead cat bounce. The premise of the expression is that even a dead cat will bounce--provided you drop it from a great enough height. An explanation which manages to be both hilarious and self-evidently untrue: a dead cat dropped from a great height would only make a larger stain on the sidewalk. I haven't tried it myself, but I don't believe I actually have to.

In the week following the third and final debate, the fortunes of John McCain and Sarah Palin would seem now to have been enjoying not so much a resurgence as a dead cat bounce: Some (though decidedly not all) of the national tracking polls indicated that the race had narrowed slightly, presumably thanks in no small part to the sudden celebrity of a tax-cheat in northern Ohio who practices plumbing without a contractor's license, whose name isn't Joe, and who doesn't actually have enough money to buy a business, or see his taxes go up under Obama's plan, either. Nonetheless, Diego showed the race tightening to D+5, one of the more ridiculous Gallup trackers showed it briefly as close as D+2, and the totally ridiculous AP interactive poll--the one McCain quoted in his improbably combative interview with loyal supporter and long-time friend Don Imus--yesterday reported the race at D+1.

And never mind that the scientifically valid of Gallup's three tracking polls continued to show D+10 or D+11, and steady-as-she-goes Scott Rassmussen saw no blip whatsoever from the D+6 stability he's been reporting for the thick end of a month. Never mind these results, specifically, because they didn't take away from McCain's counter-narrative that he was staging a late comeback. "Barack Obama won this election three weeks too early," quipped one of his surrogates last weekend on CNN, "and now people are actually starting to pay attention to what he says and what he wants to do, in time to decide they don't like it." For a moment there--one, almost sympathetically brief moment--it appeared as thought the Battle of The Pennsylvania Bulge would succeed in breaking Obama's stranglehold on the election coverage.

So what has happened since? Well, to begin with, the McCain/Palin ticket has proven once again that it will never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity: Ms. Palin, already struggling to break free of the Troopergate investigation (a scandal that she, and she alone, refers to as Tasergate--in yet one more attempt to smear her former brother-in-law), turns out to have been wardrobed and made-up for the last eight weeks at the expense of the Republican National Committee. She's spent $150,000 of RNC campaign contributions on clothing, which is the aspect of the story with which most people have at least a passing familiarity, but she has also spent $20,000 on professional make-up sessions, prior to speaking engagements.

The response is only now building and is at least several days from cresting--at a time when Mr. McCain simply doesn't have several days of lost news cycles, to lose. Already the left-leaning blogosphere is making cruel but highly effective jokes about the matter (viz, "What's the difference between a pit-bull and a hockey mom?" "You can feed a pit-bull for 3,857 years on $170,000"), while other, more soberly industrious entities are wondering in print why the RNC hasn't been formally charged by the FEC for violating the strict letter of campaign finance law, which says in boldface type that a national party committee may not spend contribution money on clothes. Even stalwart voices from the political right are beginning to register their dissatisfaction, by turns wondering how McCain/Palin could have squandered yet one more comeback opportunity, and wondering why their own contributions to the RNC should have been diverted into purchasing the Governor of Alaska a new wardrobe.

Of course, between the Colin Powell endorsement, the record-breaking fundraising total for Obama in September, and his 100,000+ audience in St. Louis, by this past Monday the dead cat bounce for McCain looked to be in some very serious trouble even before the Palin-clothing-scandal. (How do we affix a "-gate" suffix to a word that ends in a "g"? I'm sure someone will figure it out.) But the clothing issue is now guaranteed to make the rounds of the late-night monologues with the sort of gleeful impunity that late-night hosts always reserve for bloviating phonies who refuse to hold press conferences in a desperate bid to hide the bankruptcy of their ideas from the general public. Suffice it to say that the next few days--some of the last few days of the election--are all but certain to be difficult ones for McCain/Palin and the RNC.

And the polls themselves? Ah, herein lies the rub. It happens that the two most reputable state-by-state polling firms (Battleground and Qunnipiac) are out this morning with new data on a variety of states, largely collected after the Powell endorsement. Quinnipiac is out with new polls in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, while Big-Ten Battleground chose this morning to release its current crop of results for Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And the results, for McCain/Palin, are nothing short of dreadful.

Indeed the results are so dreadful for McCain that they warrant the extra column-inches for an itemized review, here:



Illinois: Obama 61%, McCain 32% (D+31, but no surprise)

Indiana: Obama 51%, McCain 41% (D+10??? In INDIANA???)

Iowa: Obama 52%, McCain 39% (D+13 in a state McCain has visited in the past week)

Ohio: Obama 53%, McCain 41% (D+12 in a state without which McCain cannot win)

Michigan: Obama 58%, McCain 36% (D+22, which is about as big as possible)

Minnesota: Obama 57%, McCain 38% (D+21, ending all hope in the Gopher state)

Pennsylvania: Obama 52%, McCain 41% (D+11, making the PA gambit look hopeless)

Wisconsin: Obama 53%, McCain 40% (D+13, in another state McCain/Palin had hoped to peel)



Florida: Obama 49%, McCain 44% (D+5 in a state that was supposed to be the leading edge of McCain's comeback)

Ohio: Obama 52%, McCain 38% (D+14, even bigger than Battleground's result)

Pennsylvania: Obama 53%, McCain 40% (D+13, ditto)


...Incidentally, Obama is also leading in North Carolina, Nevada, and Virginia.

But it is actually possible that Obama is doing even better than these polls might suggest--since every polling firm must employ some sort of "screen" to determine whether an individual is likely to vote or not, and then apply a second "weight" to ensure that the random sample they've received matches the party affiliation percentages of the state they're trying to survey. Neither of these processes is an exact science, and in a year that increasingly shows all the signs of a sea change in the fortunes of the two parties, it's entirely possible that the major polling firms are completely missing the mark to Obama's low side, using these two adjustments.

In early voting Mr. Obama is out-performing even his own best-case scenarios, for one thing, turning out African Americans and other Democrats in numbers wholly inconsistent with polling firms' likely voter screens and party-ID weights. Obama now stands a more than passing chance of stealing Georgia (of all places!) at least partly on the strength of the overwhelming turnout that state has already seen among its African-American population. At present the percentage of early votes in Georgia cast by African Americans is running at 35%, a full ten points better than their composition of the total ballots cast in 2004. Coupled with an almost certain decrease in Republican party discipline this time around, there would seem to be every possibility that the state-level polling for Georgia is being distorted by antiquated expectations regarding party-ID and likelihood of casting a vote. If the pattern holds in other early-voting states--notably Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida, we could every well be looking at the earliest indications of a shockingly lopsided election night.

The problem for McCain now isn't even the reality of any of these burgeoning news stories, as the perceptional narrative that they set him up against as he continues to struggle to find an effective counter-punch. With twelve days to go, it isn't so much that Palin's wardrobe and Obama's twelve-point lead and the dramatic tsunami of early votes are collectively impossible for him to overcome (though in fact they may be), as that any further news coverage of McCain/Palin campaign maneuvers will be lead with prefaces that continue to remind everyone of the ticket's longshot status. It's easy for us to forget--since the last two Presidential elections have been so close--that most Presidential elections, are not. And part of the explanation for this is that a sizable contingent of the electorate is so concerned with not wanting to be seen supporting a loser, that they will actually alter their preferences to accommodate the larger state of the race. They may not switch their votes, but they may stay home--and, perhaps every bit as damning for McCain, they certainly won't rally to his defense when the pro-Obama wave starts building at the lunch counter.

And so where does that leave Election '08? Is it now completely over?

Almost. Over the next day or two, the current state of both the polling and the news coverage will do one of two things--either the polls will break slightly back in favor of McCain, affording the mainstream press one last opportunity to fan its ratings with nonsense about how this thing could still go either way, or the polling data will solidify around this D+12 or D+14 trendline that had been emerging before our lives were sullied by the uninvited presence of Joe the Plumber, and the media will have no choice but to solidify its own editorial slant on the coverage, to avoid seeming behind-the-curve.

No bonus points, by the way, for guessing which of those two ways it's going to go.

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

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

  • 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 Click Here to

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maps From a Parallel Universe? (UPDATED)

With just fourteen days to go, the McCain/Palin ticket is obviously in a deep hole, and even they are beginning to act as if they know the hole is probably deeper than we fully realize. Gallup on Monday showed their national tracking number back at D+11, and Scott Rasmussen--the same Scott Rasmussen who once had the gall to ask his respondents whether they "consider Al Gore an expert on the environment"--shows Obama with a ten-point lead Virginia.

At this point there is not a single map strategy that gets Mr. McCain to 270 without something completely unforeseen happening, somewhere. As has been noted before in these columns, the John Kerry states, plus Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado would get Mr. Obama to 273 without winning any of North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, Florida, Ohio, West Virginia or Nevada--in all of which he is either tied or ahead at the moment. Obama is also within the margin-of-error in Montana and North Dakota, and closing fast in Georgia and Arkansas. But from the very beginning of the general election campaign, David Plouffe's strategy has been transparent and unwaivering: Kerry States + IA + NM + CO. It has been, and quite possibly remains, Obama/Biden's cleanest and most direct path to the White House.

So what to make of the news, first reported on Monday by CNN's John King, that the McCain/Palin ticket has quietly conceded all three of Iowa, New Mexico, and Colorado? At first glance this would appear to be an implicit concession of wider defeat, with fourteen days of hard campaigning still to go. Then you read the explanantions coming from inside the Republican team, and you realize that it appears that way on second glance, too. The campaign, it happens, is planning to reach 270 electoral votes by conceding IA + NM + CO, while holding all of NV, NC, VA, FL, OH, WV, MO, IN, ND, and MT, and--since that wouldn't be enough--by also winning Pennsylvania.

And that, "my friends," is bizarre.

Pennsylvania hasn't even had the appearances of being competitive for weeks, now, if indeed it ever was. The whip-count at has Pennsylvania showing a twelve-point lead for Mr. Obama, 52-to-40, while over at the regression-line estimate for the Keystone State is D+9.5, 53.8-to-44.3. Both of these are margins far larger than the comparable ones in Colorado, and anyway the strategy itself is an even swap, meaning that with the state of the race in Virginia and Nevada and Missouri right now Mr. McCain would still lose, even if he pulled it off. The only possible explanation is that some lone benefactor or small group of benefactors are pressuring McCain to keep pouring resources into Pennsylvania (indeed he is speaking there as these very words are being written), but even that explanation doesn't make much sense--since McCain is receiving public funding and, as such, would have to steer to the RNC all the money he'd raise by pandering to such a self-destructive request.

Obviously McCain and Palin have to fight more effectively somewhere, and it would be unfair of this author to leave his half-dozen loyal readers with the impression that Team Red has also given up in Virginia and Missouri, but the trendlines in those two states--coupled with the comparatively reachable gap in Colorado--do raise some puzzlement as to the ticket's unwavering commitment to an offensive campaign in Pennsylvania, at this moment when defense would seem to be the only side of the ball that stands the slimmest hope of winning McCain the Presidency.

Neither does the other map--the map of current events and hot conversation topics at the lunch counter--afford Mr. McCain much hope of mounting yet one last scrappy comeback. With one poll released yesterday showing that the overwhelming majority of respondents have dismissed the character campaign against Barack Obama as unfair, and a second poll released early today showing nearly everyone thinking that the country is headed for oblivion, with George W. Bush taking most of the credit, Mr. McCain would seem to be in a favorable position to win rural Pennsylvania and places like it on neither character- nor economic grounds. Indeed, when residents of the most hardscrabble areas of west-central Pennsylvania are telling canvassers, as was reported in these columns yesterday, "we're voting for the nigger," it seems vanishingly improbable that Mr. McCain can mount a comeback with anybody, anywhere, under any circumstances. If he can't even win with the racists, his fate would seem utterly sealed.

Perhaps a totally fresh approach to the air campaign would make some inroads--though if history is any teacher it would suggest that few remaining voters are likely to be persuaded at this late date by their televisions. Of course, a fresh approach to the air campaign would itself require two things that the McCain ticket seems to have in comparatively short-supply these days: money (he's being out-spent in Virginia by at least a ten-to-one margin), and, well--fresh ideas. On this last point, the following anecdote is perhaps the most telling:

For months now the McCain campaign has been carefully packaging and mailing all of its commercials to the press, on tape. This has struck many pool journalists as odd, considering that the ads are always watchable on Youtube without the need for postage or time-consumptive handling of the physical tapes, either one. And so Michael Shear of the Washington Post recently asked the campaign why they were bothering to go to all this trouble and expense--including fancy hard-plastic cases with expensive labeling on the covers.

He was told that the local television affiliates on the mailing list might want to air the commercials as part of a news story about the campaign, thus garnering the McCain ticket one extra commercial per such decision. When Shear patiently explained that he, being a print-media journalist, had no such opportunity, his receipt of the commercial was dismissed as a clerical mistake--despite the fact that he and all his colleagues had been getting these ads all election season.

Curious to see if there was, indeed, any difference in production quality between the version of the ad on Youtube and the version he'd been mailed, Shear unpacked his videotape player from the attic, opened the hard-plastic sleeve on his personal copy of the tape, and endeavored to play the commercial. And here's the thing about that: the commercial wouldn't play, because it had been recorded on a Betamax tape. The McCain campaign, it turns out, has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars --perhaps millions--over the past six months, mailing out commercials recorded on a videotape format that hasn't been widely used since the first term of the Reagan Administration.

Perhaps, I reflected as I read this story, this is the sort of thing the Obama/Biden campaign has in mind when they say that Mr. McCain is out of touch?

(UPDATE: Several alert readers have pointed out that the professional beta format is still in use in many television studios. Poop.)

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

Monday, October 20, 2008

Powell Endorses, McCain Team Squabbling




Weekends are supposed to be slow on the political news front; they're supposed to afford few headline-grabbing stories for me to write about, so that I can spend the bulk of that time cycling through my six-inch-deep-with-clutter house, collecting the dirty underwear from the lampshades. (And if you think I'm joking, I'm not: I haven't dusted since Senator Obama announced that Joe Biden would be his running mate.) But with fewer than twenty days to go before November 4th, it's only natural for all of the remaining news cycles to begin to take on greater urgency, and by that measure it should come as no surprise that the two campaigns garnered quite a bit of column-worthy news for themselves while I was washing dishes. Too bad for McCain/Palin that most of theirs was news they'd just as soon have done without.

To begin with on Saturday we had the impressive sight of Nancy Pfotenhauer (a senior McCain campaign adviser) telling an anchor on MSNBC that Senator McCain may be trailing in the must-win Old Dominion state, but that it's okay because in the end he'll win the "Real Virginia," outside of the DC suburbs. When the anchor, aghast, afforded her the opportunity to retract the statement, Pfotenhauer only amplified it, saying, "Outside of suburban DC, the real Virginia is the more -- well, the rest of the state is more, you know, southern, if you will." This coming, you understand, a day after Palin told a small-town crowd that she enjoys campaigning because she's been making it a point to only visit the "pro-America" places.

Among the many people with whom the deep odium of these statements have made an impression, we have Colin Powell--taking the opportunity of an un-checked appearance on Meet the Press to not only endorse Barack Obama, but to issue a blistering critique of his own candidates' campaign tactics, notably their implied suggestions that Mr. Obama is a Muslim. (By the way, if you haven't seen the text of his announcement you can access it in these very columns.) Of particular note was a story General Powell told, mid-endorsement, of a twenty year-old soldier who'd been posthumously awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, and on whose headstone at Arlington there stood not a Christian Cross or a Star of David, but a Muslim crescent. "He was thirteen years old on 9/11," Powell told Tom Brokaw, "and he waited until he was old enough to enlist and serve America--and he gave his life." Elsewhere in the endorsement Powell wondered aloud, "what's wrong with a Muslim-American kid dreaming of growing up to be President?" He also told Brokaw how expressly disappointed he was with the McCain team's other, equally-divisive tactics, such as robocalling.

Apparently he's not the only one. In a much less widely circulated story, it came out over the weekend that part of the reason why Virginia and Florida are behaving so strangely in this election cycle is that the McCain campaign is at war with the state Republican parties in those two places. "This shit's gotta stop," the McCain people have apparently told the Republicans in Florida who are undermining their efforts by running separate campaigns and diverting funding into them. To which the Key Grip wonders, "or else--what, exactly?"

Meanwhile Governor Palin (she of the Alaska Oil and Gas Commission that she tirelessly lobbied Then-Governor Frank Murkowski to get, and promptly demanded be sunsetted as a shining example of Murkowski's wasteful government spending), has taken the opportunity of some high-profile knocks against robocalling to come out against her own campaign's tactics. "If I called all the shots, and if I could wave a magic wand," Governor Palin told reporters during an impromptu press conference at the back of her airplane on Sunday, "I would be sitting at a kitchen table with more and more Americans, talking to them about our plan to get the economy back on track and winning the war and not having to rely on the old conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robocalls and includes spending so much money on the television ads." Perhaps one of the first things McCain/Schmidt would have learned about this woman is her proclivity to bite the hands that feed her--had they bothered to learn anything about her at all?

For his part, McCain has found himself defending the very tactics he assailed in 2000, when he began sinking in the South Carolina Primary to George W. Bush. In an interview with Chris Wallace over the weekend--on Fox News!--when the subject of the contradiction was gently raised, the candidate and the host almost came to blows:
WALLACE: But senator, back, if I may, back in 2000 when you were the target of robo calls, you called these hate calls and you said —

McCAIN: They were.

WALLACE: And you said the following: "I promise you I have never and will never have anything to do with that kind of political tactic." Now you've hired the same guy who did the robocalls against you to, reportedly, to do the robocalls against Obama, and the Republican Sen. Susan Collins, the co-chair of your campaign in Maine, has asked you to stop the robocalls. Will you do that?

McCAIN: Of course not. These are legitimate and truthful and they are far different than the phone calls that were made about my family and about certain aspects that — things that this is — this is dramatically different and either you haven't — didn't see those things in 2000.

WALLACE: No, I saw them.

McCAIN: Or you don't know the difference between that and what is a legitimate issue, and that is Sen. Obama being truthful with the American people.
As for hidden (pro-America?) support, political columns continue to trickle-in suggesting that there is no such thing as a "Bradley effect," and that the whole story of Californians saying in 1982 that they would vote for Bradley in an effort to sound politically correct was just a convenient excuse for some pretty lousy polling methodology. "We can find no structural evidence," wrote one columnist on the subject, "that individuals express support for an African-American candidate on the basis of seeking to hide their true feelings for that candidate." True, this story hasn't exactly bombed the major news websites, but it stands to reason that Mr. McCain can't win this thing from ten points down if his "pro-America" divisiveness isn't secretly playing to more people than are saying so when polled.

In West Virginia the Democrats are even taking a new and unexpected tack on the subject--setting it right there in front of everyone, at their rallies. "Yeah, he's black," the speakers are telling audiences of semi-stunned West Virginians. "And you know what? I'd rather have a black friend than a white enemy, any day." Next door in Pennsylvania, door-knockers for Obama are repeatedly reporting the bizarre situation of asking who the household plans to support in the election and being told, to their faces, "We're voting for the nigger." All disclaimers about predicting the future aside, folks, if McCain is losing the racists, he's officially, and without further ado, baked.

Then there was the story of FreddieMac and FannieMae, giving enormous campaign contributions to the RNC in an attempt to kill the legislation whose passage would eventually form the first major step in trying to lead us out of the housing mess. McCain caught a break in that this story dropped when everyone was paying attention to something else--but for the small problem that the something else was the Powell endorsement.

Many pundits have said that endorsements never make much difference, and that they especially don't make much difference when they come this late in such a high-information race, but I would respectfully disagree: Those individuals who remain undecided are probably--for the most part--soft Obama supporters. After all, the incumbent party traditionally garners fewer than 1/3 of late-breaking voters, and that's when the playing field is otherwise level. In this election the late-breakers are probably skewed even farther than that in the direction of Team Good Guys, precisely because anyone who would consider voting for four more years of these idiots we have now, probably already has a bumper sticker and a yard sign.

For the folks leaning toward Obama and not yet ready to support him, the sight of a well-respected and high-profile Republican coming out for the Illinois Senator would form just the sort of lunch-table cover that was necessary to defend a final decision. This is to say nothing of the fact that the story robs at least two precious news-cycles from the McCain comeback, and probably takes all the freshness out of the "Joe the plumber / spread the wealth around" narrative that McCain/Palin were using to gain-back some traction in recent days.

Indeed, moving forward the path to victory for McCain is almost non-existent. It was said of Hillary Clinton in the late spring that her continued presence in the delegate contest served as a sort of "Vice Nominee"--a person who could continue to demonstrate viability as an alternative, in the unlikely event that such an alternative was necessary to find. It seems to this author that Mr. McCain has now become the "Vice Candidate," by the same logic. He's clearly lost the election, barring a change of circumstances that is entirely unforeseen (and, conceivably, tragic), and will continue to campaign as if he has every chance of success. But with the Powell endorsement--and the fresh round of scathing criticism for McCain's tactics--the structural dynamics of election 2008 have taken their last, and possibly biggest, turn. Mr. McCain has simply, inescapably run out of time.

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Complete Text of Powell's Endorsement

Text as transcribed by yours truly from an embedded video of Colin Powell's endorsement of Senator Barack Obama for President:


Brokaw: General Powell, last year you very publicly made a campaign contribution to Senator McCain, you have met twice, at least, with Barack Obama, are you prepared to make a public declaration of which of these two candidates you’re prepared to support?

Powell: Yes, but let me lead into it this way: I know both of these individuals very well now; I’ve known John for twenty-five years… and I’ve gotten to know Senator Obama quite well over the past two years. Both of them are distinguished Americans who are patriotic, dedicated to the welfare of our country. Either one of them, I think, would be a good President. I have said to Mr. McCain that I admire all he has done; I have some concerns about the direction the party has taken—in recent years it has moved more to the right than I would like to see, but that’s a choice the party makes. And I’ve said to Mr. Obama, “You have to pass the test that, do you have enough experience, and do you bring enough judgment to the table, that you would give us confidence, that you would be a good President.” And I have watched them both, over the past two years, frankly, and I’ve had this conversation with them.

I have especially watched, over the last six or seven weeks, as both of them really have taken a “final exam” with respect to this economic crisis that we are in… and I must say that I’ve gotten a good measure of both. In the case of Mr. McCain, I found that he was a little unsure of how to deal with the economic problems that we are having—almost every day there was a different approach to the problem—and that concerns me; it gave the sense that he didn’t have a complete grasp of the economic problems that we have. And I was also concerned by the selection of Governor Palin: she’s a very distinguished woman, and she’s to be admired, but at the same time, now that we’ve had a chance to watch her for some seven weeks, I don’t believe she’s ready to be President of the United States—which is the job of the Vice President. And so that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Senator McCain made.

On the Obama side, I watched Mr. Obama … during this seven-week period, and he’s displayed a steadiness, an intellectual curiosity, a depth of knowledge, and an approach to looking at problems like this, and in picking a Vice President that I think is ready to be President on Day One, and also in not just jumping in and changing every day, but in showing intellectual vigor, I think he has a definitive way of doing business that will serve us well.

I also believe that, on the Republican side … the approach ... has gotten narrower and narrower, while Mr. Obama has given us a more inclusive, broader reach into the needs and aspirations of our people. He’s crossing lines. Ethnic lines. Racial lines. Generational lines. He’s thinking about how all villages have values, all towns have values—not just small towns have values.

And I’ve also been disappointed, frankly, by some of the approaches that Senator McCain has taken recently … on issues that are not really central to the problems that the American people are worried about. This Bill Ayers situation, that’s been going on for weeks, has become something of a central point of their campaign, but Mr. McCain keeps saying that he’s just a washed-out terrorist, so why do they keep talking about him? And why do we have these robocalls going on around the country, trying to suggest that—because of this very, very limited relationship that Senator Obama has had with Mr. Ayers—that somehow Mr. Obama is tainted? What they’re trying to connect him to is some kind of terrorist feelings, and I think that’s inappropriate.

Now I understand what politics is all about, I know how you can go after one-another, and that’s good. But I think this goes too far. And I think it has made the McCain campaign look a little narrow. It’s not what the American people are looking for, and I look at these kinds of approaches to the campaign, and they trouble me.

The party has now moved even further to the right, and Governor Palin indicates a further rightward shift. I would have difficulty with two more conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, but that’s what we’d be looking at in a McCain Administration. I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but by what members of the party say, and are permitted to be said. Such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well the correct answer is, “He’s not a Muslim; he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian.” But the REALLY right answer is, “What if he is?” Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? And the answer is no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven year-old Muslim-American kid, believing that he or she could be President? Yet I have heard SENIOR members of my own party, drop this suggestion: “He’s a Muslim, and he might be associated with terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was part of a photo-essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one picture, at the tail-end of this photo essay, was of a mother at Arlington National Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave, and as the picture focused-in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards—purple heart, bronze star—it showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, his date of death (he was twenty years old), and then at the very top of the headstone? It didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have a Star of David, it had the Crescent and the Star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Mushad Sultan Khan. And he was American. He was born in New Jersey. He was fourteen years-old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he could go serve his country—and he gave his life.

Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in these ways. And John McCain is as non-discriminatory as anyone I know, but I’m troubled by the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

So when I look at all of this, and I think back over my Army career, we’ve got two individuals, either one of whom could be a good President, but which is the President that we need, now? Which is the individual that serves the need of the nation…? And I come to the conclusion that, because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching-out all across America, because of who he is, and his rhetorical abilities—and you have to take that into account—as well as his substance, he has both style AND substance, because he has met the standard of being a successful President, an exceptional President, I think he is a transformational figure, he is a new generation coming onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I will be voting for Senator Barack Obama.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Name the Ticket

I've been playing around with other names for the McCain/Palin ticket, other than "Team Crankypants," which is getting a little old--so I want to open it up for suggestions. Here's a few I've been considering:

"Grumpy McSame & Tundra Barbie."

"Admiral Cuckoo's Nest and his sidekick Annie Yokely."

"Lost 'Nam / Lose Iran"

"Arizona Stockdale and his partner Northern Lite"

"Bob Dole and Katherine Harris"

"Scent Of A Woman and his buddy, Adventures In Babysitting"

"Mr Whiggins and Miss Tudball"

...or does that last one date me a little? Click Here to Read More...

What More Might One Need to Know Than This?

You may recall that a few days ago the McCain/Palin ticket was caught lying about how many people had attended a rally of theirs in Virginia Beach. Foolishly they had not bothered to check their own "estimate" of 25,000 people, against the physical capacity of the building, which was only 16,000--to say nothing of vetting it against the local Fire Marshall's estimate of the true attendance figure, which was only 12,000. At the time the mainstream media's subdued coverage of the story might have been considered generous toward McCain/Palin, specifically because of what a full airing of the mismatch might have said about their support in the crucial, military-town corridor of this irretrievably crucial state.

Which begs only the question of what the mainstream press will do about this.

On Saturday, October 17th, in St. Louis Missouri, Barack Obama held a rally for what the city police department estimates was over 100,000 people--in a state that was never supposed to be his. That's 100,000 people, my friends. Not 10,000. Not 50,000. Not even 75,000. For purposes of context, consider that Mr. Bush carried Missouri in 2000 by fewer than 79,000 over Al Gore, and four years later won the Show-Me State by fewer than 200,000 despite running against a re-animated corpse.

As for what this might mean for the fate of Election 2008, it's easy to over-state the barometric aspect of a single rally--but not as easy as some political analysts would have you believe. If Obama can get 100,000 people in St. Louis, and McCain is speaking to 4,000 empty seats in Virgnia Beach, there can be little doubt as to whether Joe The Plumber could or couldn't save McCain, now.

He can't.

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