Articles and Analysis


Nails in McCain's Coffin?

Normally electoral vote tides take weeks and months to form and impact a campaign. Ten days ago the financial crisis wave rose quickly and swamped this presidential campaign. It is the only thing anyone is talking about; it has received saturation media coverage (and, as we write this, the Asian and European markets are down significantly). And it may be the final nail in the coffin for John McCain.

Up until the financial crisis, the McCain campaign had been doing a remarkable job of staying close (and even, briefly, pulling ahead) in a campaign that it has no real business winning when you consider the environment. But with a sinking economy piled on top of everything else, even a perfect campaign might not be enough.

Which brings us to the debate. Both men were terrific (kudos, too, to Jim Lehrer for staying out of the way and basically letting the two candidates go at it), so we'll call it a draw. But in many respects it doesn't matter what McCain does or says during these debates; all eyes are on Obama. We've said it many times: if Obama can prove himself to be a credible commander-in-chief (not an easy task, mind you), he'll win. And he did that on Friday night. He was poised and direct, much better than he was during his primary debates or during the two recent forums at Saddleback and Columbia University. His performance, combined with the financial crisis, makes it likely that he will win this election.

Today, the LCG regression vote model projects McCain losing by 2.2 points in November. He currently trails by 2.3 points. In many of those national and key state polls, Obama has taken a three-eight point lead; he obviously has momentum. McCain's recent vote strength is still checking the more recent bounce that Obama got from the fiscal crisis (and we haven't seen an impact from his debate performance yet), which is preventing the model from giving Obama any momentum beyond his current advantage. Put another way, because McCain has (recently) proven himself to be a strong and credible candidate, the model needs more evidence that Obama's "fiscal crisis"/debate bounce is genuine before it projects him as a bigger winner.

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What the regression does show is that the financial crisis has all but eliminated the GOP Convention/Palin pick bounce that McCain enjoyed. We have reverted to the early-August Obama lead. Undecided and "soft" voters have drifted back into the Obama column. And as many other pollsters have noted, Obama has re-taken a solid lead with Independents. There is a direct relationship between this and the collapse of the Palin/Maverick narrative--and this began way before the Couric interview. Thursday's debate will be an opportunity for the McCain campaign to re-engage with some of those voters, but Palin will have to have a strong night (see #4 below). Having said all of the above, there are still five weeks to go (a lifetime in political campaigns), so anything can happen. But the next few weeks (and debates) will be critical for the McCain campaign as it works to change the current narrative.

Up-to-the-Minute Analysis of the Environment

  1. McCain's gambit last week may yet pay off. The President spoke at 7:30 a.m. this morning. It is likely that the House will vote today to pass the amended version of the Administration's $700 billion plan. As it stands at 9:30 a.m. this morning, it appears that taxpayer protections have been built into the plan. It remains to be seen if McCain's interventionist actions taken last week will be seen as a political asset or a liability, but this morning's activities have improved his odds.

  2. There is every indication that this week may be just as financially painful as the last. This will be the only political conversation for the next 72 hours. If the economy is in crisis and it remains the dominant news story it continues to help Obama. And as of this writing the markets are experiencing big drops. So long as the financial crisis is front-and-center, McCain's ability to move the needle (i.e. improve his standing in the polls) will be at the margins.

  3. As we said above, Friday's debate was a draw and that translates into a win for Obama. We have said this several times before but it bears repeating: this election is really almost all about Obama. If the public decides he is an acceptable alternative--and a credible commander-in- chief--then he wins. Friday night was another step in that direction. Simply put, he passed the credibility test. Obama seemed reasonable, responsible and rational. The debate likely served to allay fears that some voters have with Obama. Other debate thoughts:

    • McCain was about as good as he can be. Our sense is that this might have been the best debate performance of the year for both candidates. McCain in particular seemed to steer the debate to talking points that best supported his candidacy (spending, earmarks, troop surge in Iraq).

    • Obama talked to McCain (and the camera) and McCain talked to the Ole Miss audience. It made Obama seem more natural while McCain came across as a bit awkward.

    • Obama telling his own bracelet story was awkward at best. Any time a candidate tries to one up another on their turf it almost always backfires. Obama should have let that one go.

  4. Thursday is the VP debate and it is time to let Sarah Palin be Sarah Palin. Our sense is that you have to let her sink or swim, so let her do a dozen interviews a day and just let it fly. We agree with Bill Kristol: it was a mistake to put her into this cocoon because it turns every interview into a white-knuckler. In doing so, you make her afraid to make a mistake, and her interviews get worse because of it.

  5. The financial crisis will move up the timetable on harsh comparative attack spots. They will wait until the financial crisis bill passes and the VP debate is over, but it is our sense that the McCain team will not let this thing drift too far before unleashing whatever "A" material they have in reserve. Hold on to your hat...because things are going to get wild.

LCG Electoral Vote Map

Below is our updated map. Obama's lead is widening basically everywhere, except PA and FL. He continues to maintain a lead in solid electoral votes.

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Based on recent state polling we have moved the following states:

  • New Mexico from toss-up to Obama

New Mexico is extremely problematic for Team McCain. While McCain appeared to have closed the gap in late July and early August, it now appears that Obama has opened up a seven-point lead based on an average of the last three state-wide polls. While it is unlikely that New Mexico will be decisive on November 4th, peeling away states like New Mexico could allow Obama to get to 270 electoral votes while winning only two of the heavyweight toss-ups of Ohio, Michigan, Virginia and Florida. The trend has to be disconcerting.

NM 9 29.png



LCG map does not have Michigan or Colorado in blue? What are you waiting for?



Four things:
1. Proclamations like this by Republican strategists/opinion-makers/pollsters should NOT make the Obama camp complacent. Remember New Hampshire!
2. Obama telling his bracelet story showed that patriotism and sacrifice are not the sole preserve of the Right. It didn't strike me as awkward, and apparently the mother in question was happy as well.
3. Lombardo says cocooning Palin makes each interview a white-knuckler - have you considered the fact that Kristol and you have the cause-and-effect reversed? The best example was SNL using Palin's own words almost verbatim - you can't come up with a disturbingly funnier take than Palin's own words. [Or, you can't make this s*** up!]
4. Obama can win even if he just holds MI, NH and CO... Though I hear a 269-269 tie favors Obama, so even NH may not be essential.



McCain is going done, unless something dynamic happens.



Maybe a little premature on #1? McCain didn't come through with the House Republican votes he was supposedly working on. McCain campaign is desparately spinning to place blame on the Democrats, probably because they know that if McCain is blamed for bailout failure and stock market collapse he is finished.



I don't know if any pundit or individual immersed in politics can clearly see the debate as an independent voter does. The numbers of those after the debate showed that it was NOT a tie. Obama won, and did so because he convinced the independents that he was not someone to be feared.

It's true that McCain spoke to the camera (audience). The problem was that he spoke to it like he was speaking to his grandkids. That forced "soft" voice that he has acquired to take the angry edge off, and his speech patterns makes it sound as if he is scolding an immature bunch of grade school kids.

As for the wristband event...it was clear that McCain's was contrived...as if he has done that a hundred times. Obama's seemed almost spontaneous ("almost" because it was a reaction to something he knew that McCain would pull). And was the debate "McCains" turf? The point Obama was making...that people can't stay in conflicts simply because some parent feels that they don't want their son or daughter to "die in vain" was pretty clearly made.

But as I said...I'm not unbiased. For that we have to look to the polls and post-mortem focus groups.

As far as McCain being able to use the economy and his involvement as a foil to improve his reputation...well his meeting with Bush on Friday really swung the Republicans over, didn't it. It doesn't look at all good when McCain (the prospective leader of their party) can't bring his felloow Republicans into the fold to support their own Presidents plan (or McCains supposed imput into that plan).


Scott in PacNW:

Lombardo says "... in many respects it doesn't matter what McCain does or says during these debates; all eyes are on Obama."

All eyes on Obama? Not John McCain's. He could bear to make eye contact.


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