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 ...in 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 electoral-vote.com has Pennsylvania showing a twelve-point lead for Mr. Obama, 52-to-40, while over at fivethirtyeight.com 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


A. Gordon said...

Seriously? Betamax? I haven't seen a Betamax tape since '87. Our Jr. High library had stuff that was on Betamax. I haven't seen it since.

I've heard of out of touch, but this is ridiculous. Like putting out software for the Commodore 64.

Dave O'Gorman said...

Yup, yup. They've spent the whole election campaign mailing out their commercials on beta tapes.

...And you know, it might be even more telling that it has taken this long for anyone to *notice*.

Anonymous said...

Ok, to be fair, members of the Beta family (specifically, Betacam and its cousins) are still widely used in a professional setting. I seriously doubt it was an actual Betamax tape.

Anonymous said...

Nonetheless, aren't all the local affiliates broadcasting in HD now? Surely they can figure out how to air something that comes over the intertubes in a digital format or even something as archaic as a CD or DVD (cheaper than mass producing and distributing betaxxx tapes I would imagine.)

Dave O'Gorman said...

...at the very least, cheaper in terms of postage.