Sunday, November 2, 2008

One Surprising Performance, Another Still to Come

In thinking about how to spend my annual extra hour, I'd intended to aggregate a cluster of more-or-less typical news stories from Friday and Saturday--go with the very sort of barometric electoral hodgepodge for which I'm known and respected by all four of the loyal readers who logged a comment yesterday to object to the idea that I only had four.

There would have been a paragraph on the rapidly unfolding story of early voting--how a nationwide canvass by the Washington Post reveals that nearly 60% of the early votes cast have been for Senator Obama, and separate surveying by the Public Polling Policy Institute show that Obama's lead is ten- and seventeen points in Colorado and New Mexico, among the roughly two-thirds of the electorate that has already voted in those two states. There was going to be a screen-capture of the (almost) current statistics in North Carolina (click on the image to expand it if you're having trouble reading the numbers)...

...and in Florida...

...and the net effect of all this early voting data would have pointed the discussion inexorably toward a reprieve of the shocking disparity between the ground operations of Senator Obama and Senator McCain, with room at the bottom for a mention that the race for President is now statistically tied in Louisiana and, not quite shockingly, in Arizona as well--and I probably would've carved a quiet little corner for the news that, as the electorate continues to "lock-in" its support, the pool of persuadable voters is evaporating faster than Senator McCain can win them over, to such an extent that many Republican columnists are beginning to wonder if it isn't already too late.

In ruminating on the question of how we got to this point, there would of course have been an obligatory paragraph describing Sarah Palin's increasingly disastrous influence on McCain's electoral fortunes--including the story of a Russian energy conglomerate's meetings in Alaska, that took place during Governor Palin's administration, but of which she was completely and blissfully unaware. I'd have found time to embed the link to Republican Senatorial Campaign Chair John Ensign, saying "of course not" to the question of whether Palin is ready to be President, and to mention the new ethics complaint that has been filed in Alaska against Palin, on the grounds that she's been using taxpayer money to fund the campaign travel of her kids. Space would've been made, too, for another dose of the "going rogue" angle to the growing story--specifically a mention of her weekend campaign rally in Florida in which all the audience signs described the state as "PALIN COUNTRY" and made no references whatsoever to John McCain. And of course there would have been yet a few more words about her continued (and now presumably permanent) refusal to release her medical records.

I'd have spoken about the enthusiasm gap too, of course--notably at the senior levels of opinion-making, where people like George Will have openly suggested that the wayward Republican party is about to get exactly what it deserves, while former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein was across town on another network, endorsing Barack Obama, together with Ronald Reagan's own son, and a gaggle of other well-respected Republicans both in- and out of government. Indeed even Senator McCain's remaining high-level support, I'd have pointed out somewhere in that same paragraph, is only empowering the Obama campaign to make one of its most devastatingly effective television advertisements, yet.

With so little chance of winning Pennsylvania and by that measure preserving their dwindling electoral chances, I would have cautioned, the McCain campaign and its surrogates would find themselves increasingly desperate and thus increasingly reliant on dirty tricks. From a nasty push-poll in the Keystone State, to the suspiciously timed news that an Obama relative may be residing in this country illegally, to the naked attempt by a senior McCain campaign official to suggest that Obama collaborates with antisemites, despite being unable to cite a single credible example, I would have sternly admonished every loyal supporter of Team Good-Guys to keep his or her foot squarely on the accelerator to bank every soft voter that we can get our hands on. Then I'd have signed off with a few words about how the whole thing will mercifully soon be over, and that in spite of all the patented Republican under-handedness, we were gonna win anyway.

So what changed the plan? Saturday Night Live changed the plan. In a stunning show of good-natured self deprecation, Senator John McCain appeared on the program last night in two separate skits, both of them funny and both of them consisting of just the sort of warm, gracious humor that had charmed so many Democrats and Independents in years gone by. "We would have liked to run a thirty minute program on all three major networks like Senator Obama did," McCain said at the outset of the first sketch, standing beside Tina Fey's pitch-perfect Sarah Palin impersonation, "but we can only afford QVC." By turns the Republican Presidential candidate poked fun at himself ("I'm going to try the 'reverse-maverick,' where I just do everything that anybody tells me to"), poked fun at his campaign ("I'm a true maverick: a Republican who doesn't have any money"), shared in some good-natured fun at the expense of both his running-mate and, in an unintroduced cameo, his wife, and--most telling of all--managed to poke highly effective fun at his opponents, without having to seem dirty or shrill or desperate. It suffices to say that, had this John McCain showed up for the election and stayed in it, the race for the White House would surely look a lot different, now.

Which begs only the question, if this kind of performance on his part was so effective, and so easy, why wait until its content amounted to a de facto concession of the race? Surely no one who makes jokes about himself as a "sad grandpa" or as a man whose temper is capable of "scaring the hell out of everybody in the room" is still expecting to win-over the persuadable voters he needs to win the Presidency, and by that measure it seems obvious that McCain's intention last night was to signal his desire to be seen as gracious in defeat--but the question stands: Why wait until defeat is inescapable, to be gracious? Especially if you're John McCain?

Loyal readers have heard me say this before, but the lesson that I believe we will all learn from this election (myself included) is that political campaigns aren't one-size-fits-all. If I'd been running the Obama campaign, for instance, I'd have coached him to be as sharply forceful in his responses to the Bill Ayers / Jeremiah Wright nonsense as Senator Kerry was not in 2004--and I'd have been dead wrong. Neither Senator Obama's temperament, nor the mood of the electorate, would've left any room for the sort of eye-for-an-eye rejoinders that I enjoy so much in my own gleeful disagreements with my enemies. People are different, situations are different, there is a time and a place for everything. By hiring Steve Schmidt to rescue his foundering campaign, John McCain left himself open to being turned into something he's not, and the biggest irony of that statement is that the something he was being turned into these past few months was the only thing that would lose him the election: another George Bush. And it is a sad state of affairs indeed, when a man we'd all come to respect for not being George Bush can appear on national television three days before an election, and surprise us by not being George Bush.

Meanwhile, if Senator McCain's big surprise-performance of the election happened last night, then I'd also like to take the last of your second cup of coffee to posit that Senator Obama's big surprise performance is yet to come--on election night. With the staggering advantage in field operations that he enjoys, coupled with the increasingly dubious-seeming filters that major polling firms must apply to every batch of data they see, and despite the electoral whip-counts that already show massive advantages for Team Blue from coast to coast, I believe that the election returns on Tuesday night will surprise everyone for the depth and breadth of the Obama victory. In 2006, with none of the advantages that Obama and his team have cultivated on the ground, some of us were surprised by the strength of Democratic performance in the midterm elections--taking as they did the Senate seats in Virginia and Missouri, both of which were supposed to be close-but-no-cigar contests for the good guys. Only a shamelessly racist TV ad in Tennessee stopped Harold Ford from running the score up to three-for-three.

This year, with an Obama campaign taking absolutely nothing for granted, anywhere, all while the conventional news media completely misses the story of the differences in the two ground operations, I now believe that we're going to see massive electoral surprises in just about every state where the Democrats have contested the matter at all. My previous best-guess was 353 electoral votes, but if anything I'd encourage avid speculators to "take the over" on that projection--specifically since it did not include victories in any of Missouri, Indiana, Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana, Montana, or either of the Dakotas, all of which are now well within reach. Four hundred electoral votes for Obama are a total that is, at this hour, no longer a suggestion worthy of howling protests of overconfidence.

With the prospect of further Republican dirty tricks lurking out there as always, I would of course sternly admonish every loyal supporter of Team Good-Guys to keep his or her foot squarely on the accelerator, to bank every soft voter that we can get our hands on. But now I'll sign off by reminding everyone that the whole thing will mercifully soon be over, and that in spite of all the patented Republican under-handedness, we're gonna win anyway.

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


Anonymous said...
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A. Gordon said...

I, too, was fairly impressed w/ McCain's performance on SNL. Not sure if you missed it but when McCain made the QVC comment and Fey responded with "we can't afford it" she's stroking the lapel of her jacket...her Saks or Neiman's jacket...

That said, it does beg the question as to why he would wait until 48 hours before the election to finally be himself. If he feels it's the only way he can win, then why didn't he do it sooner? The other problem with that last question is that the campaign as a whole has executed dozens of different tactics (not strategies) because it felt it was the only wait it could win (bash Obama, don't talk about the economy, bash Obama, concoct Joe the [insert noun here], bash Obama).

I suspect he will get a little bounce from SNL depending on the MSM coverage only we won't see in in the daily polling. Additionally, I don't believe the SNL viewership crowd is necessarily the type to flip a vote simply because it was being manipulated on national TV. Finally, whether the bounce actually results in actual votes is probably untestable at this point.

Still, such MSM coverage could subvert the "Obama's harboring an illegal immigrant family member in this country" story.

A. Gordon said...

Early voting stats page is here.

Anonymous said...

McCain puts on good performance here as well.

Obama's response: