Monday, September 29, 2008

It Ain't Over...

Truman holding up the "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline is one the most famous photos of the 20th Century. In the days and weeks leading up to the election it had been assumed that Thomas Dewey of New York would succeed Truman as the President. Truman has been thrust into the role when FDR died a few months into his fourth term and the polls showed Dewey with an all but insurmountable lead. It was assumed that Truman was in his last days as President. Truman embarked on a whistle stop campaign across the country in the week leading up to the election as Dewey worked on putting his new administration together. Truman took his message to the people and they responded. His middle class values and down home wisdom trumped the seemingly elitist Northerner.

The reason I bring this up is because of the current state of the polls which show Obama with a widening lead. Based on a couple of bad weeks for McCain, the national numbers are moving Obama's way. The upcoming Vice Presidential debate maybe another major turning point of the election. It would seem that Obama's lead, given the fact that we are only 5 weeks away from election day, would point to a victory on election day. I would caution against such thinking for a couple of reasons. First, the polls have shown amazing volatility over the past 6 weeks. Obama went from a 9 point lead (in the Gallup poll) after his overseas trip, to a 6 point deficit (after the Republican convention), to currently sporting an 8 point lead. That kind of movement should not inspire confidence in Obama supporters and it should provide some comfort to the McCain camp. There is more than enough evidence to show that a game changing event can and more than likely will take place before election day. Five weeks is certainly enough time for the numbers to swing ten points in either direction.

The second reason that I wouldn't get too comfortable if I were the Obama campaign, is that the American people are still not sold on Obama's "Americaness". His every appearance on TV is another opportunity for him to provide the opening that his opponents are looking for. One slip could prove fatal to his campaign. Obama has to navigate the next two debates with the skill of a brain surgeon. Not only does he have to show a grasp of the issues but to quote Eugene Williams of the Washington Post, he has to come across as the "least aggrieved black man in America". He has managed to walk that tightrope so far (with only the occasional bobble, e.g. the bitter comment), but he is far from the safety of the other side of the wire.

The McCain campaign surely has some more tricks up their sleeves. The problem that they face now is that the economic crisis has taken away their ability to drive the press coverage of the candidates. The press' focus is elsewhere, so any attack launched against Obama is simply not going to get the coverage that it would have if the candidates had the playing field to themselves. There is no one who is more hopeful that Congress will reach an agreement soon than John McCain. As he showed last week, his ability to affect the outcome of the debate on this topic is limited, so he has to hope for a quick resolution and a return to the days when the Presidential campaign was the lead story for the night.

I can't look into my crystal ball and predict the future, but I can certainly imagine John McCain's final appeal to the people will be based not on facts and figures but on emotion. I can imagine Senator McCain talking about his service to his country, his time as a POW, his fight to help the little guy against the greed and corruption in Washington and on Wall St. I can imagine him saying that this election is about who you feel more comfortable with in the White House. And I can imagine 50.1% of the people deciding that electing John McCain just makes them sleep better at night. Chaos doesn't always lead people to seek out something different, sometimes all they are looking for is something familiar and that is what John McCain offers. So when you look at the lead that Obama is currently enjoying, try and remember the election of '48 and try and imagine the look on Dewey's face when he woke up on that Wednesday morning and tried to understand what happened to the election that he supposedly couldn't lose.

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