For their part, Obama aides declined to characterize McCain's electoral strategy. They fear that Obama's numbers are artificially high, and that the race will tighten somewhat before November 4. They also worry that McCain, who's been running a mix of positive and negative television ads, will dump his money into an entirely negative campaign in October, one that would question Obama's fitness, patriotism and identity.
Yes, we have wonderful national poll numbers right now. Yes, Obama is surging (and in many places leading) in the battleground states. Yes, we have a unmatched ground game, a wide enthusiasm gap, and millions of new registered voters who want change.
But the Obama campaign is right not to be complacent. First off, their fears of "an entirely negative campaign" from McCain has already been realized:
The McCain campaign has now shifted virtually 100 percent of his national ad spending into negative ads attacking Obama, a detailed breakdown of his ad buys reveals.
By contrast, the Obama campaign is devoting less than half of its overall ad spending to ads attacking McCain. More than half of its spending is going to a spot that doesn't once mention his foe.
While it's far from certain that a 100% negative campaign will move the numbers, the Obama campaign is right to be worried. There's still a lot of soft support out there, and a purely Rovian campaign could "re-change" some minds:
About 1 in 4 voters remains uncommitted to either candidate - they are either undecided or favor one candidate but say they could change their mind.
So, with a quarter of voters either not committed or not sold, these polls are certainly bendable. I'll note that the enthusiasm gap indicates that Obama's voters are much more solid than McCain's voters: 61% are enthusiastic for Obama v. 36% for McCain and 29% of Obama's voters have reservations v. 47% for McCain in the CBS poll. But that still means that almost a third of Obama voters could be swayed away from him -- and that's who McCain's 100% negative campaign (and the sure to be coming GOP guilt-by-association smears) is after. And this is what the Obama campaign is talking about regarding a tightening race.
With that said, let's also consider the battleground polling. The state by state poll numbers do look wonderful. But there is some softness for Obama if we try to consider his paths to 270.
First off, if we bank Iowa and New Mexico for Obama and give him every Kerry state, that gets Obama to 264. To get to 270 (and avoid a wild ride in the House of Representative at a 269-269 tie), Obama needs one of the following:
- Win Florida
- Win Ohio
- Win Virginia
- Win Colorado
- Win Indiana
- Win North Carolina
I'm assuming at the point that Missouri, West Virginia, and that one electoral vote in Nebraska are just out of reach for Obama, though we'll see.
Now, this is of course assuming that Obama wins all Kerry states. Looking at the polling, I'll be generous and say we should only by concerned about holding Minnesota right now because McCain has been trending toward a lead here for weeks (though, personally, I'm still worried about New Hampshire). Nevada becomes an important hedge here because Virginia, North Carolina, and Indiana plus Nevada would get Obama to 270 should Minnesota flip to McCain. However, winning Colorado plus Nevada would not be enough.
Right now, every one of these states are tight, as you know. While there have been some recent numbers showing Obama up comfortably, other polls have McCain up in these states. For example, SUSA just polled McCain up a point in Florida and up a point in Ohio. Mason-Dixon just polled McCain up 3 in Virginia. ARG's most recent has McCain up 3 points in Colorado (and Rasmussen recently has Obama up just one). SUSA just gave McCain a one-point lead in Minnesota. Pollster.com still shows McCain with an aggregate lead in North Carolina and Indiana. If these polls are vindicated, we'll be swearing in President McCain in January.
I know I'm cherry picking polls here. There are plenty of great Obama numbers in all of these states. However, in none of the states I've listed above does Obama have a Pollster.com aggregate advantage of more than 3 points, and he's looking at a less-than-a-point-lead in Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida. And, as noted above, he's still trailing in North Carolina and Indiana. That's certainly too close to comfort when you consider the possibility of a 100% negative smear campaign targeted at those soft supporters noted above. And my point, in the end, is simply this: that it's certainly far from "over" based on current polling and the sense from the Obama campaign of what's ahead.
I'll also add that there's a "complacency" danger with these high national poll numbers. Maybe not for the diehard volunteers on Kos, but for those who support Obama but might not make it to their polling location on a busy day. Or who are intending to make some call or do some canvasing. but might feel less urgency when they hear about 10-point national leads. Images of New Hampshire on primary night dance through my head, as huge polling leads evaporated as the results came in.
So let's keep working like we're 10 points down and closing. And more importantly, let's make sure the message of urgency reaches everyone out there who might not read this diary. This election is too important to let some tracking polls and some quotes from a bowling alley trick us into thinking we can relax.