Published in the New York Post on October 30, 2008
Iraq isn’t the only place where the surge seems to be working. John McCain’s gains over the last five days are remaking the political landscape as Election Day approaches.
The double-digit leads Barack Obama held last week have evaporated, as all three of the top tracking polls (the most current and reliable measurements out there) show McCain hot on Obama’s heels.
Zogby had Obama ahead by 12 points last week – now it’s down to four. His margin in the Rasmussen poll has dropped from eight points to three in the last few days. Gallup shows only a two-point difference.
In each news cycle, Obama is on the defensive – staving off accusations of closet socialism and trying to wriggle out of his once overt advocacy of income redistribution. “Spreading the wealth around” has become the anti-Obama slogan – and might become the epitaph for his candidacy, just as “brainwashed” was for George Romney and “Where’s the beef?” was for Gary Hart.
And, as we head to Halloween, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s image is returning to haunt Obama. Yes, McCain refused to use the issue in his own campaign – but independent groups like goptrust.com are using funds from tens of thousands of individual donors to run ads featuring Wright and his relationship with Obama. Just yesterday, a tape surfaced in which Obama described Rev. Wright as “the best the black church has to offer.”
The double dose of Obama’s support for spreading the wealth around and his affiliation with the toxic Rev. Wright are eroding his once-formidable lead.
If the stock market doesn’t send us all into shock again, the election could be very close – with the undecided vote looming large. The key question is: About whom are they undecided?
At the height of the financial crisis, voters couldn’t decide if McCain was really a maverick or just a Bush clone. But the spotlight has shifted: It’s no longer McCain who is caught in its glare, but Obama.
As the Democrat moved convincingly ahead last week, voters began to seriously consider what kind of president he’d be. Bush and McCain seemed increasingly irrelevant as people pondered whether they really want to trust Obama with this kind of power.
By this point, the nature of the undecided vote has likely shifted from people who are torn between wanting change and worrying about Obama to people who have basically decided not to back Barack but haven’t sufficiently collected their thoughts to come out for McCain.
Then there’s the so-called Bradley effect – where white voters lie to pollsters and say they are backing the black candidate when they’re not.
To date, it’s been a myth: As The Wall Street Journal reported, Tom Bradly had lost his lead in the polls by the time California voted on his bid to become governor. But it may be real this year.
Undecided voters may be reluctant to say they’re not voting for Obama. They may be concealing their real intentions by saying they’re undecided. (They might even not have come to grips with their intentions themselves.)
High turnout may also be a wild card. On the surface, it seems sure to bolster Obama’s chances as large numbers of poorer, less educated, younger and minority voters turn out to vote for the first time.
But the swelling turnout may have gone beyond this social outreach. And, as it does, it can help McCain. After all, white voters back McCain by double digits. If the contest inspires them all to vote, Obama will lose.
So we approach Election Day with the possibility of a rerun of 2000 plainly before us. McCain has closed to a point where the race will likely be very, very close – and we’ll have to stay up very, very late on Election Night.