The table below represents my best estimate of the number of field offices that each campaign presently has open in each state, or plans to open in the immediate future. I say "estimate" because there is no hard-and-fast source for this information. Each campaign has listing of its field offices on the respective state-by-state pages within its website (Obama example) (McCain example), however, in certain cases, the offices appear to be relics of the primary campaign that have since shut down. In states where the number of offices appeared to be dubious, or the listing did not appear to have been updated recently, I spot-checked the numbers by randomly calling a couple of offices in each state. It appears that all or almost all of the McCain campaign's offices in California are inactive. But this was a larger problem for Obama, where offices in a large number of states that were important in the primaries, like Kentucky or any number of Super Tuesday states, have long since been shut down.
My best estimate of the current state of the ground game follows. States are ordered by their current rankings in the Tipping Point metric:
Overall, I count 336 offices for Obama and 101 for McCain.
What's more, the overwhelming majority of McCain offices aren't really branded as McCain offices. Rather, they are so-called 'Victory Offices' that are operated by the local Republican party in that state and which serve all Republican candidates in that state. Some fairly substantial degree of coordination between the national campaign and the state party apparatuses is inevitable in any Presidential campaign. But in Obama's case, it is Chicago that is driving the bus (to the extent that we'll probably begin to hear some complaints from local party officials), whereas the McCain campaign is effectively competing for resources and attention with other Republican candidates.
The state-by-state distributions are also interesting. McCain, who has spent almost nothing on advertising in Florida, is instead very heavily invested on the ground there with 35 offices, perhaps reflecting the fact that Florida has one of the nation's best and most effective state Republican party operations. The other states where McCain has multiple offices open are: Michigan (11), Ohio (9), Minnesota (7), Missouri (7), Wisconsin (6), Virginia (6), Iowa (6) and New Hampshire (3). By contrast, the McCain campaign has just one office open in key states like Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and (somewhat shockingly) Pennsylvania, and no offices open in some second-tier swing states like Indiana and Montana.
The Obama campaign is not really running a 50-state campaign. Instead, they appear to be running an active operation in 22 states: Ohio (33 offices open), Virginia (28), Missouri (27), Florida (25), Wisconsin (23), Iowa (23), Michigan (22), New Mexico (18), Pennsylvania (18), Washington (18), New Hampshire (14), Indiana (14), North Carolina (11), Georgia (11), Colorado (10), Minnesota (9), Nevada (6), Oregon (6), Maine (6), Montana (6), North Dakota (4) and Alaska (4). For my money, the large number of offices open in states like Washington and Maine are unnecessarily defensive -- and in Georgia, hopelessly offensive. But generally speaking, the Obama campaign's distribution does a much better job of matching the Tipping Point map.
How can someone being portrayed as "the biggest celebrity in the world" also be painted as radical and out of the mainstream? Either Obama is like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton: a fluffy, substanceless, mass-consumed but empty celebrity-for-celebrity’s sake, or he is an unfamiliar and dangerous other with a hidden anti-American agenda.
It’s hard to reconcile the two. By trumpeting Obama's popularity, McCain is calling him – by definition – a safe, easily digestible consumer product, broadly acceptable in the mainstream. Thus, McCain boxes himself into a corner when he wants to make the argument not to elect Obama because he’s so far outside the mainstream.
The problem with trying to thread the needle and have it both ways by making both messages stick simultaneously is that if Obama is a dangerous other with a secret America-hating agenda, it’s hard to call him vapid. You can’t be sharp enough to be cunning sleeper and also be an empty airhead.
In theory McCain could put out both messages and hope that the audience of persuadable voters self-selects which characterization bothers them about Obama and ignores the other, and that, ironically, the non-deep-thinkers who would turn around and reflexively swallow those attacks wholecloth don’t appreciate how the subtexts work against each other.
In practice, the campaign is dependent on the media to repeat the buzzwords over and over and over to help amplify the impressions left by the ads. The media isn’t as likely to participate willingly in the “dangerous radical” game; they might be more willing to ask: “Obama phenomenon: crazy fad or authentic movement?”
The pivot is, ironically, an appeal to the cynical American cultural observation of itself, that Americans are often shallow in what they choose to make popular. This requires the person who embraces the caricature of Obama to see him or herself as not shallow, in opposition to his or her fellow Americans who have installed Obama on his celebrity pedestal. The audience then, is comprised of people who see themselves as above the common culture. (Closet elitists, if you will.)
Moreover, Obama seems more fully prepared for counterattacking the “dangerous other” theme, simply because he’s had a far longer time practicing. He’s been a national phenomenon far less time. It’s also awkward to argue against the celebrity charge. Every politician wants to be popular. And while Obama would love to argue (and has) that his popularity derives from an America hungry for policy differentiation from Republican policymaking that has produced record high wrong track polling marks, that doesn’t convincingly and fully explain his popularity. Obama has personal charisma, and he can't convince us that's not part of it.
The incredulity with which Obama responded to the Spears-Hilton ad betrayed his surprise at that new gambit: “Is that the best you can come up with?” And it appears, yes, the McCain camp is finding traction and investing heavily in the theme (over $140,000 day on the Britney ads alone). Given the subtext conflict, and that there is a risk of just as much backlash against the otherness fear politics, and Obama’s deftness at using aikido to turn those attacks around, McCain is better off going with the celebrity line and ditching the otherness line.
If nothing else, it undermines one of Obama’s greatest campaign assets – the numbers of people willing to go to their neighbors door to door and persuade on Obama’s behalf. If McCain’s campaign succeeds in caricaturing those supporters themselves as the political equivalent of boy-band tween fans, it might blunt some of that neighbor-to-neighbor outreach effectiveness.
Perhaps it'll ultimately sort out as Obama-as-cunning-stealth-sleeper and Obama's supporters as NYSNC fanboys and fangirls. Of course, caricaturing Americans who want to see an inspiring leader runs the risk of backfiring. Dumping on hope isn't generally a winning strategy.
In Michigan, Barack Obama leads John McCain by 4 points. This is down from 8 points a month ago, but consistent with other polling of the state -- the four most recent polls all have had Obama leading by margins ranging from two points to four.
I tend to believe that Michigan, unlike something like Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, is liable to stay fairly close to the end. You have several exogenous factors that tend to help John McCain in the state: an rather unpopular Democratic governor, a Democratic mayor in Detroit who spent last night in jail (and who may impact Obama's turnout operations by triggering infighting at City Hall), and the fact that the Obama campaign got a later start on the ground here than in any other state. Weighted against that is a meaningful edge for the Democrats in party identification, a fairly large African-American population, two huge university towns in Ann Arbor and East Lansing, and the nation's highest unemployment rate. The balance of power still favors Obama, but not by much.
In Missouri, it's McCain by 6; he had led by 5 points in July. The Obama campaign is investing tons of resources into Missouri and believe that they can flip the state, but the better bet might be Indiana, a demographically similar state with the same electoral vote count, but where the McCain campaign is making a huge gamble and not playing defense.
Lastly, in Washington, Obama leads 54-42. John McCain has about as much chance of winning Washington as the Mariners do of making the playoffs.
Rany Jazayerli, my friend and colleague at Baseball Prospectus, knows Mr. Asbahi, and wrote me a long e-mail detailing his perspective on the matter. I asked him whether he'd be willing to share his perspective with the readers of FiveThirtyEight, and he graciously agreed. The following are Rany's words, unedited, and pulling no punches.
On Mazen Asbahi
by Rany Jazayerli
If you’re a politics junkie – and if you’re reading this, you are – you may have read the report in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that Mazen Asbahi, who just 10 days before had joined Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as national coordinator for Muslim American affairs, “stepped down Monday after an Internet newsletter wrote about his brief stint on the fund’s board, which also included a fundamentalist imam.”
Mazen Asbahi is one of my best friends. I introduced him to his wife 12 years ago, which was payback after his wife (a childhood friend) introduced me to my wife the year before. When I attended medical school in Michigan, where he grew up, his parents would invite me over for dinner regularly. Our kids play together and we dine together at least once a month. We’re close. And now, thanks to the work of some racist jerkwads, his reputation has been sullied from coast to coast. Nothing that has been inflicted on the Muslim community in America has made me remotely as angry as what has transpired over the last 72 hours. (Except for 9/11, of course. But I know those guys are getting what’s coming to them.)
The news that Mazen had been offered the position - and that he took a leave of absence from his law firm to work in an unpaid capacity – was celebrated not just among his circle of friends, but throughout the Muslim community in Chicago and nationally. Mazen had spent his adult life preparing for this kind of opportunity. He’s worked for a number of Chicago law firms since graduating from law school, and while most of his legal work has been in the corporate setting, he has always been most passionate about the work he did, much of it pro bono, on behalf of various charitable and social organizations. The opportunity to represent Obama’s campaign, one he strongly supports, to a Muslim community that knows and trusts him, was an immensely fulfilling task for him.
So I'm crushed for him as a friend, but I’m furious as a Muslim because what has happened is that Mazen was forced to resign because of a smear campaign that targeted him for the sin of being Muslim: nothing more, nothing less.
Let's parse the original Wall Street Journal column, if you don’t mind:
“In 2000, Mr. Asbahi briefly served on the board of Allied Assets Advisors Fund, a Delaware-registered trust. Its other board members at the time included Jamal Said, the imam at a fundamentalist-controlled mosque in Illinois.”
‘I served on that board for only a few weeks before resigning as soon as I became aware of public allegations against another member of the board,’ Mr. Asbahi said in his resignation letter. ‘Since concerns have been raised about that brief time, I am stepping down...to avoid distracting from Barack Obama's message of change.’”
Where do I start? Let’s start with Jamal Said, “the imam at a fundamentalist-controlled mosque”. The consensus of the vast majority of Muslims in Chicago is that the mosque is not a fundamentalist anything, which is why it has such a large membership. Some of the mosque’s more recent projects include donating a riverfront garden to the city of Chicago (here’s a picture of major Richard Daley at the ribbon-cutting ceremony) and becoming the first mosque in the country to run on solar power.
Said has never been convicted of any crime, or arrested for any crime, or indicted for any crime. He has been accused of supporting Hamas, but has never been found guilty of anything. I’m not here to defend Said; I don’t know him, and unlike the people who wrote this column I prefer to not render judgments about people I don’t know anything about. But the point is that Said is not a convicted criminal, or a mafia don that walks the streets while people cower in fear.
What he is, is the imam of the largest mosque in the Chicago area. Mazen is an active member of the Muslim community here in Chicago. It would be almost impossible for him to be active and not have some contact with Said.
So Mazen happened to serve on the board of an investment fund with Said, until he learned about allegations that Said had been involved in raising funds for Hamas, at which time he quit the board. In 2000. Before 9/11, before Iraq, before the US government shut down Muslim charities such as the Holy Land Foundation after accusing them of funneling money to Hamas and other designated terrorist groups. (Incidentally, the case against the Holy Land Foundation ended in a mistrial.) But in 2000, before our own government felt that these charitable activities were illegal, Mazen decided to dissociate himself from even the hint of impropriety. That doesn’t support accusations that he’s a terrorist sympathizer; it refutes them.
“Other Web sites, some pro-Republican and others critical of fundamentalist Islam, also have reported on the background of Mr. Asbahi. He is a frequent speaker before several groups in the U.S. that scholars have associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Those groups “associated with the Muslim Brotherhood” include ISNA, the largest Muslim organization in the country, whose annual convention draws over 10,000 people. Other prominent speakers at past conventions include radicals such as Karen Hughes. Last year's convention was co-sponsored by the Department of Justice. The other group Mazen was involved with was the MSA, also known as the Muslim Students Association, which exists on every college campus. I was part of the MSA when I was in college; pretty much every Muslim who goes to college is. It serves the religious needs of students on campus in the same way that Campus Crusade for Christ or Hillel might.
“The Justice Department named Mr. Said an unindicted co-conspirator in the racketeering trial last year of several alleged Hamas fund-raisers, which ended in a mistrial. He has also been identified as a leading member of the group in news reports going back to 1993.”
Pardon my Arabic, but what the f**k is an unindicted co-conspirator, and why is our government using this phrase? Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? And whatever happened to the notion that indictment is just the first step towards a guilty verdict? A prosecutor is supposed to be able to indict a ham sandwich, so what does it say that they’ve never been able to indict Said? (Maybe that’s his secret: Muslims don’t eat pork.)
In that racketeering trial – which, again, ended in a mistrial – the government listed close to 300 Muslim organizations as “unindicted co-conspirators”, which is tantamount to saying “we think some of them are terrorists, and since we don't know who, we’ll just blame them all.” So much for innocent until proven guilty. This isn’t even guilty until proven innocent – it’s guilty with no recourse to prove you’re innocent. How can you defend yourself against an indictment which doesn’t exist? Said is guilty by association. Which makes Mazen, apparently, guilty by association with someone who’s guilty by association. It's McCarthyism squared.
I’m so angry that I don't know where to direct my anger. I’ve fervently supported Obama’s campaign up until now, having just donated to his campaign again last week, but I’m not sending him another dime until I see some evidence that he’s willing to take a principled stand against this kind of bigotry. If Obama won't stand up to the flimsiest of accusations linking someone in his campaign, however remotely and ridiculously, to terrorists, then I’m not sure what he'll stand up against. I realize this kind of feckless approach worked so well for Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, Barack, but could you act like a man for once and grow a pair? Maybe Hillary will lend you hers.
If Obama doesn't want to stand up for Mazen on principle, how about standing up for him on pragmatism? Maybe he doesn't feel he needs to, since it's not like Michigan is a tipping point state in this election or anything. And it's not like Michigan has one of the highest concentrations of Muslims of any state in the union. And it's not like Mazen is from Michigan and his resignation is certain to depress turnout in the state from one of the Obama campaign's most reliable demographic bases. Seriously, who made this decision? Karl Rove?
I suppose I should credit the Obama campaign for having the courage to appoint a Muslim coordinator in the first place. In which case I have to ask, how stupid were they to not expect this kind of attack in the first place? The first thing I said to Mazen after he was hired – after “congratulations” – was “you know they’re going to come after you now, right?” He nodded, and we both knew who “they” were.
“They” are the racists who made these accusations and forced the Obama campaign to respond to them. They came after Mazen with everything they got, and all they landed was a feather punch – only to have the Obama campaign throw the towel in the ring anyway.
What they’re saying is that Mazen Asbahi has a link to people suspected of terrorism. What I’ll tell you is this: Mazen is not a terrorist. He’s not a fundamentalist. He’s not an Islamist. He’s neither a supporter of, nor a subscriber to the ideology of, the Muslim Brotherhood. The only thing he is guilty of, like the witch-hunted Debbie Almontaser, is being a Muslim and being an active member of the Muslim community. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been qualified for the position in the first place.
As Ahmed Rehab put it in today’s Chicago Tribune, the headline should read “Muslim liaison for presidential campaign resigns after connections to Muslim community are found.” Mazen could not have been qualified to do this job without being associated, in some tenuous fashion, to someone like Jamal Said – just like Obama could not be a part of the political community of Chicago’s South Side without being associated with someone like, say, William Ayres.
Oh, and you know who else is associated with Said? As Jake Tapper pointed out, the board that Mazen and Said both sat on was the Allied Asset Advisor Funds, a subsidiary of the North American Islamic Trust (NAIT). NAIT is an adviser to the Dow Jones Islamic Fund.
Dow Jones. Which publishes the Wall Street Journal. Which broke the story that forced Mazen’s resignation. We’re officially through the looking glass, people.
If Mazen Asbahi is a terrorist, then I'm a terrorist. And if I were named to the same position, I'm sure they would have found a way to label me a terrorist as well. (I’m sure that if you scour my writings over the last 12 years, you’ll find that at some point I’ve threatened grievous bodily harm to a few members of the Kansas City Royals.)
And that’s what this is about. The same people who claim there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim will do everything in their power to slander people like Mazen Asbahi – the very epitome of a moderate, modern, integrated, tolerant, patriotic American Muslim – as an extremist. They will set their sights on any Muslim who seeks to be a part of the political process, and will pick them off, one by one, until there are no more targets left.
The world is at war right now, but it’s not a war of Christian vs. Muslim. It’s a war of moderates vs. extremists, and the two groups are battling it out in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. But they’re also battling here in America. This week, the extremists won. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them continue to win without a fight.
Rany Jazayerli is a physician, and co-founder of Baseball Prospectus. He lives in Naperville, Illinois
However, we need a bit of a reality check, since we are talking about voter contacts – numbers of phone calls and door-knocks. According to Martin’s reporting, the McCain camp made 20,000 combined door knocks and phone calls nationwide in the previous entire month. (Yes, you read that right.) With the resurgence, they are up to 324,000 in one week, an approximately 6500% increase.
To the uninitiated, that may sound impressive. Led by Steve Hildebrand, the Obama camp has been tight-lipped about its own numbers, as Martin's piece notes. But the reality is that on Monday alone in just Ohio, without revealing my sources, the Obama campaign made 109,029 persuasion phone calls. From general experience, contact rates are about 25%, meaning that for every phone call or door knocked, about 1 in 4 voters gives you information about their support or about their party or what issues are most important to them in helping them make up their mind. In turn, this information re-loops into the voter file and flows downstream until it's the final GOTV push.
Let’s do some quick math. Martin’s reporting suggests to us based on that ratio that nationwide, in one week, the McCain campaign talked to approximately 81,000 voters. The Obama campaign talked to about 27,000 in one state in one night. If we make a reasonable guess that Ohio has something like one-fifteenth of Obama organizers and volunteers, that’d be 405,000 voters contacted in one night nationwide. In 7 days, that’s 2,835,000 voters contacted, compared to the McCain 81,000, a thirty-five-fold edge.
Granted, 35-1 is a rough estimate and an improvement over the incomprehensibly sad 567-to-1 edge McCain was apparently giving away last month, but these field programs are still not in the same ballpark. One is an NFL team and the other is now a high school JV team.
For example, after the Tester-Burns Montana Senate race in 2006, I drove to San Antonio to help Ciro Rodriguez in his December 12 special election TX-23 runoff against incumbent Henry Bonilla. Every poll in that race, including the final poll released on election eve, had Bonilla winning by a comfortable 4-5 point margin.
Stunningly, Rodriguez won by almost 9 points. Organizing helped tip the balance. The DCCC poured late money into the race and a huge field effort with an assist from a Bill Clinton Dec. 10 appearance in the district helped spike the energy. The pollsters didn’t catch the under-the-radar movement.
In many ways this election was anomalous because special elections are low turnout affairs. In fact, turnout was only a 28% fraction of 2004 turnout. But it still shows that polling models can be well off (pollsters know that special elections are low turnout affairs and adjust their likely voter models accordingly) because they fail to capture the force multiplier of a far more energized turnout machine on one side versus another.
As a result, it’s a key topic in the presidential race, particularly when one side is going to the mattresses and setting a ridiculous precedent for organizing.
On Monday, a must-read piece in the Washington Post discussing Virginia specifically calculated the mathematical edge Obama hopes to leverage on Election Day through new voters. This example can be extrapolated to each state, since the campaign's field team in each state has its own voter registration goals.
Here are Virginia's numbers: the addition of 151,000 new voters by the registration deadline of October 6. Based on experience, the campaign believes about 75% of these new voters will show up on Election Day, and 80% of those newly registered will likely be Obama voters. (Mostly this is because the people out there registering voters are wearing Obama T-shirts and stickers, or sitting behind tables with Obama banners taped to their front that naturally attract undecideds and those inclined to support Obama.)
In Virginia’s case, that translates to nearly 68,000 extra votes for Obama uncaptured by pollsters in current polling. Given that Virginia’s general election turnout was 3.2M in 2004 and projecting turnout of 3.5M in 2008, banking 68,000 new votes means Obama would start out with a 1.9%-to-0 structural advantage.
It’s important to stress that this is not a hypothetical advantage. If the organizers and their recruited volunteers can hit their daily quotas (perhaps something like 20 per organizing pyramid per day as a broad guesstimation) in each state, this new voter edge will happen, and so will the 1.9%-ish bumps. It’s not an accident that tickets to the Invesco Field nomination acceptance speech are predicated on showing up to field offices and registering new voters.
The silver lining for Republican partisans is that nothing besides their own campaign choices and base enthusiasm is stopping them from matching Democratic partisans new voter for new voter, in which case the bump would be canceled out. In 2004, despite an intense effort on the Democratic side, Republicans had the better ground game and it made the difference. George W. Bush’s team saw the merit in investing big on the ground, and it paid off. The problem for them this time is lack of base enthusiasm and choices the McCain camp is making about resource investment.
Hildebrand said that to ensure that the campaign fills the stadium, the application process becomes in and of itself a recruiting tool.
"Every single person is going to be a level of seriousness," Hildebrand said. "You know, 'Tell us how you're going to get there from Maine. Tell us how you're going to get there from Florida. Give us a sense of whether or not you're really serious about this. If you're not, we're going to provide someone else with this.' "
Those who want a seat will begin the process at their local Democratic Party office. While demonstrating their ability to attend, they also will be encouraged to sign on to the campaign as volunteers.
"They fill out a form; there's a conversation," Hildebrand said. "We ask them and encourage them to register voters and to get out the vote and those activities that are important to us. It's not a requirement, but it's going to be an encouragement."
Moreover, until those new registration goals are reached, they aren’t reached. That seems like an obvious point, but a fair number of blogosphere-based Democrats seem to be caught up in appointing themselves amateur campaign advisers instead of bearing down on the work that has to be done, a point I made in a partisan post here today following on Al Giordano’s lead. I had more than one person tell me during the 2006 Montana Senate race that they didn’t need to pull a volunteer GOTV shift because I was needlessly worrying since Tester had it in the bag based on his consistent polling leads. (For those that don’t remember, the race wasn’t called until 10:30am local time on Wednesday morning, moments before Donald Rumsfeld resigned.)
As the election wears on, we’ll be staying on the organizing beat, looking for updates on numbers, reports from the ground, and insider tips about where the rival campaigns are in voter registration. Feel free to email pocket99s-at-gmail with confidential tips and general observations about the state of the ground game in your area.
That's a Pollster.com-style chart of Bill Clinton's favorability ratings since the start of calendar year 2001, just as he was preparing to leave office. The patterns are fairly easy to infer. Clinton remained popular in the waning days of his Presidency. Once he left office, his numbers essentially became a mirror image of George W. Bush's, moving into net-unfavorable territory when Bush was reasonably well-liked, and then rising as the President declined in popularity. But since his wife began to run for office, his numbers have faltered, falling from about a +20 at their peak in 2006 and early 2007 to roughly +5 now.
I think there is more risk than the insta-pundit reaction seems to be acknowledging in the news that Bill Clinton will speak just before the Vice Presidential nominee on the Wednesday night of the Democratic convention. This is a huge speech, and it means that there is going to be an awful lotta Clinton at the convention, with Hillary probably delivering the keynote on Tuesday and Bill stealing the spotlight on Wednesday.
Indeed, the only reason why Bill's speech won't upstage Obama's is because Obama is such a strong orator. It will possibly upstage his wife's, and probably upstage the vice president's. In fact, it puts Obama in even more of a pickle in making his VP choice. Does it become even more important now to have a 'change' candidate, to avoid the convention being too much of a back-to-the-future affair? Or do you need someone who won't create an awkward contrast with the Clintons? If the importance of oratory is elevated by the chore of having to speak after Bill Clinton, does that boost the prospects of the relatively stronger speakers (Joe Biden and Tim Kaine) at the expense of the relatively weaker ones (Evan Bayh and Kathleen Sebelius)? Does it help someone like Wesley Clark, who is relatively well equipped to navigate these different parameters? And how sure are we that we should be ruling out Hillary?
The most interesting results are perhaps out of Wisconsin, where new polls from Rasmussen and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute have Barack Obama ahead by 7 and 6 points respectively. This is slightly closer than Wisconsin had been polling before (it's closer still if you exclude leaners from the Rasmussen poll, which diminishes his advantage to 4 points). Still, I think that Wisconsin is a trap state for John McCain. There have been 17 polls of Wisconsin since Super Tuesday, and Obama had led in 15 of them. The Republicans have been slightly outspending the Democrats in Wisconsin, which could account for a point or two's worth of tightening, but we're getting to the point where a consistent lead in the high single-digits is a pretty significant barrier to overcome. Moreover, Wisconsin is in an awkward position electorally. In only 52 of our 10,000 simulations did Barack Obama lose Wisconsin while losing Michigan -- and if Obama has lost Michigan, Wisconsin is unlikely to matter.
Oregon, where SurveyUSA has Obama ahead by 3, presents a somewhat more interesting opportunity, as it marches somewhat more to its own drummer. Still, while the polling has tightened in Oregon -- this is the second consecutive SurveyUSA poll to show a 3-point race, it's hard to look at the demographics, compare them to Washington or California (where Obama holds large leads), and conclude that McCain is going to swing the race without a lot of effort.
Moving outside of swing states (real or alleged), there are a couple of good vanity numbers for Obama. His +21 from Quinnipiac in New York represents a 7-point improvement from last month, and the Capital Survey result from Alabama frankly isn't bad for a Democrat. But neither state has any electoral significance.
Now, I appreciate that Gallup is willing to disclose so much about their methodology -- it certainly opens them up to more criticism. Having said that, winding up with a sample that understates the youth vote by perhaps 30-50 percent is pretty much prima facie evidence that something has gone awry. Indeed, I'm really not a fan of the Gallup likely voter model at all.
What Gallup does is essentially as follows. Suppose that the entire electorate consists of five voters. Gallup has an algorithm by which they estimate each voter's likelihood of participating. So what you might get is something like this:
Voter A - 70% chance of voting
Voter B - 50% chance of voting
Voter C - 90% chance of voting
Voter D - 60% chance of voting
Voter E - 80% chance of voting
For my money, the most logical way to handle this -- if you're going to apply some sort of likely voter model at all -- would be to multiply each voter's response by their likelihood of participating. So voter A would be counted at 70 percent weight, voter B at 50 percent weight, and so forth.
What Gallup does instead is to rank the voters in order, and to set an arbitrary cutoff point for how many voters they want to have in their sample. Assuming, for instance, they're targeting 60 percent turnout, that might look something like this:
Voter C - 90% chance of voting
Voter E - 80% chance of voting
Voter A - 70% chance of voting
Voter D - 60% chance of voting
Voter B - 50% chance of voting
Voters A, C and E would be included in the likely voter sample (and counted at full weight); voters B an D are dropped.
I think that this winds up throwing away good information. We know that Voter A isn't that much more likely to participate than Voter D, but Voter A is counted at full weight, and Voter D isn't included at all.
A larger problem arises however if there is some kind of systematic pattern in which voters tend to wind up in which buckets. For example, suppose that Gallup's scoring is such that you wind up with something like this:
Voter M1 -- Mature Voter -- 65% chance of voting
Voter M2 -- Mature Voter -- 65% chance of voting
Voter M3 -- Mature Voter -- 65% chance of voting
Voter Y1 -- Young Voter -- 55% chance of voting
Voter Y2 -- Young Voter -- 55% chance of voting
In this case, the three mature voters would all be included in the model, while the two young voters would be dropped -- even though there is a rather small difference in their respective likelihood of voting.
That was just a contrived example -- but Gallup's methodology could prove to be very problematic if there is any sort of Long Tail effect in voting patterns.
That is, suppose you have a small group of core voters who are nearly certain to vote, coupled with a larger group of non-core voters, any one of whom might not be all that likely to participate, but who collectively will make up a fairly large fraction of the electorate. If the voters toward the head of the curve tend toward one party (say, the Republicans), and the voters toward the tail of the curve tend toward another (say, the Democrats), you're going to wind up with a skewed sample if you set an arbitrary cutoff point somewhere in between.
The compromise proposal -- formally the New Energy Reform Act of 2008 -- is a complicated piece of legislation, but involves three or four basic components:
-- Opens additional drilling areas in the Gulf of Mexico, and allows Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to elect to permit drilling off their coasts. Existing bans on drilling off the West Coast, including in the ANWR, would be preserved.
-- Dedicates $20 billion to R&D on alternative fuels for motor vehicles.
-- Extends a series of tax credits and incentives, such as for the purchase of hybrid vehicles.
-- Funds the above -- at total cost of about $84 billion -- by closing tax loopholes for petroleum companies, in conjunction with licensing fees.
Barack Obama has come out with lukewarm support for the bill. McCain has come out with what amounts to lukewarm opposition to it, objecting to the removal of the oil company tax loopholes.
There would be tremendous electoral upside to Obama in making his support for the legislation full-throated, by signing on as a co-sponsor to the legislation and making the Gang of 10 a Gang of 11. Consider the benefits of such action:
- Would take the drilling issue off the table. Offshore drilling polls well, favored by roughly 2:1 margins. But more than that, it gives the Republicans a rhetorically effective detour by which they can bypass most of the debate on energy policy, and much of the debate on the economy in general. The passage of a bill -- particularly one that had Obama's support -- would mitigate the issue and force the Republicans to argue the economy from much weaker ground, such as the Democrat-friendly territory of social security, health care, and middle class tax cuts.
- Would make Obama look bipartisan. The Republicans supporting the bill aren't your usual cast of Gordon Smiths and Susan Collinses. Instead, they are center-right types: Saxby Chambliss, John Thune, Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker, and Johnny Isakson. Obama's claims to bipartisanship would be very credible.
- Would make McCain look obstructionist. The converse of this is also true, substantially undermining Obama's claims to be a moderate/maverick.
- Would highlight McCain's loyalty to Big Oil. Even worse for McCain is his reason for opposing the bill -- his refusal to remove oil company tax loopholes. In this populist climate, and particularly in the wake of Exxon's record-setting profits, that is a potentially lethal position to hold.
- Would recast 'flip-flops' as 'compromises'. One of the potential drawbacks to Obama voicing more aggressive support for the legislation is that the McCain campaign would try and highlight is reversal on the offshore drilling issue. However, Obama has a couple of relatively persuasive defenses. Firstly, McCain flip-flopped himself on this very issue. And secondly, Obama can begin to build a narrative that explains his flip-flops by some means other than electoral opportunism. Namely, flexibility is required in order to engineer bipartisan compromise: he is willing to support drilling, but only if oil company tax loopholes are closed, and only if there are provisions to invest those tax revenues in alternative fuels. Since essentially all of Obama's shifts have been toward the center rather than the left, this might pay dividends not only on the drilling issue itself, but also in other instances in which he has changed his position.
- Would help Obama in electorally significant states. The bill is rather cleverly engineered in terms of electoral politics. It permits drilling in the swing states of Virgnia, North Carolina and Florida, but does not permit it on the West Coast, where the measure is significantly less popular. There might also be some secondary benefit to Obama in supporting the moderate Democratic senators who have championed the legislation. If Kent Conrad shoots a commercial in North Dakota, and says "This man had my back when the chips were down and it was time to lower your gas prices and secure America's energy future", that is very persuasive stuff.
- Would distance Obama from Pelosi and Reid. Increasingly, the right is trying to lump Obama together with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the extremely unpopular institution of the Congress. Supporting the compromise would allow Obama to keep Pelosi, who has been attempting to prevent a drilling bill from coming to a floor vote in the House, at arm's-length, and create the perception that he is in charge of his own destiny.
- Preempts a non-compromise drilling bill from passing. And frankly, it might also be doing Pelosi a favor. Intrade now forecasts that there is about a 50:50 chance of a drilling bill of some kind passing by the end of the year. What Pelosi is essentially doing is gambling that gas prices will decline over the summer while the Congress is on recess. If gas prices continue to go up, however, Pelosi could face an insurrection from swing-district Democrats, putting her at a Morton's Fork between allowing a vote on a drilling bill that wouldn't include compromise provisions (but which nevertheless would almost certainly pass), or attempting to plug the dam at the potential cost of a material number of House seats.
- Preempts McCain from doing the same. I believe that McCain made a significant and potentially even fatal mistake by opposing the tax loophole closure provision of the bill. But Obama may only have a limited amount of time to exploit it. There are too many electoral benefits to this bill for one or the other candidates not to come out vociferously in favor of it, and if Obama does not do so first, McCain may do so instead. Ninety percent of electoral politics is possession, and whomever grabs the apple first will make the other candidate look like a follower.
Frankly, it would not surprise me if the Obama campaign is already keyed into this maneuver. Last Friday, they sent up a trial balloon in the form of Obama's softly-voiced support for the compromise. The trial balloon did not burst; Obama took very little flak for his apparent flip-flop on the drilling issue, whereas the Republicans were reduced to a frivolous taking point about tire gauges. Then this week, Obama began to hammer McCain on his support for oil company tax breaks, highlighting McCain's reason for opposing the compromise measure. Everything is all set up for Obama to move on the issue literally overnight. If he gets the optics right, he will leave McCain in an unenviable position.
This lineup is nearly identical to 2004, except that Brokaw is replacing Charlie Gibson in the second debate. Whether this is a direct response to ABC's much-criticized Philadelphia debate during the Democratic primaries, I don't know -- I'm frankly not sure about how these things are negotiated -- but it's probably a slight break for Obama. It's also a bit of a break in tradition for ABC, which has moderated far more debates than the other major networks (see table below).
One break for McCain? The first and third debates will feature both candidates seated, rather than standing at their podiums (the second is a town-hall format), depriving Obama of the opportunity to fully leverage the aesthetics of his height advantage.
In Florida, a new survey from Public Policy Polling has John McCain with a 3-point lead. This is an improvement for McCain from the June edition of this poll, when he had trailed by 2. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Rasmussen has Barack Obama ahead by 10 points, after having led by 3 points in July.
I lump these two polls together because in each case, looking at the immediate trendline is a little bit deceptive. The preponderance of polling and demographic evidence -- including previous surveys from these firms -- has suggested that John McCain holds a small lead in Florida, and that Obama holds a larger, relatively safe lead in New Jersey. So this may very well just be a case of the numbers reverting to the mean, rather than any kind of organic movement. Likewise, in New York, Rasmussen shows Obama with a 19-point lead. This is down from a massive 31-point lead that he held last month -- but more consistent with other polling of the state, including Rasmussen's numbers in April and May.
Still, these numbers may impact electoral strategy at the margins. The McCain people have been smart enough to avoid a serious investment in New Jersey, which is a huge money trap. The Obama campaign, on the other hand, has been serious about trying to flip Florida, which is also a notoriously expensive state to advertise in (lots of old people = lots of people watching TV news). As I've elucidated before, having gone this far in Florida, it would be premature for the Obama campaign to pull out now -- by any measure it's a winnable state. But we're still talking about a fairly narrow set of conditions under which Florida matters. The basic flowchart for this election looks as follows:
1. Can McCain win Michigan? If so, McCain is very likely to win the election.
2. If McCain loses Michigan, can Obama win Ohio? If so, Obama is very likely to win the election.
3. If Ohio and Michigan are split, can Obama win Colorado or Virginia? If so, Obama is very likely to win the election, having essentially to pick off just one or two smaller states West of the Mississippi (Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, Montana) while perhaps also having to defend New Hampshire.
These remain the paths of least resistance in this election. It is not coincidence that Obama has two winning paths to McCain's one, which matches the roughly 2:1 favorite that we make Obama in this election.
States like Florida, Missouri and Indiana represent break-glass-in-case-of-emergency states for Obama; McCain's analogous states are probably Pennsylvania, Oregon and perhaps Minnesota. If these states have become must-wins, we are talking about a scenario where a candidate is facing third-and-long: not an uncovertable position by any means, but also not the one they'd prefer to be battling from.
I've read -- well, skimmed -- the whole paper, and it strikes me as exceptionally thorough. The thing you worry about when you are conducting one of these sorts of analyzes is that there is some latent effect that you can't capture well through other variables -- some piece of DNA that might not manifest itself in traditional demographic categories like age, income or race, but which simultaneously makes one both more likely to subscribe to Oprah's products and to vote for Barack Obama. Garthwaite and Moore do everything they can to identify such latent variables, by (for example) searching for an Oprah Effect in the 2004 Illinois Senate race (there wasn't one) and also looking at subscription patterns of other popular women's magazines.
It's pretty convincing work. And it's important work too, because endorsements are a notoriously slippery thing to study. If you come right out and ask people whether endorsements matter, they are likely to tell you 'no'. But I doubt that people are being entirely honest. It's not that they're consciously lying to pollsters -- they're lying to themselves. If you stood outside of a Best Buy and surveyed everyone who had purchased an iPod, and asked them whether their purchase decision was influenced by iPod's ubiquitous advertising, I doubt very many of them would say yes. But the reality of the situation is that Apple's slick advertising and precise branding are hugely responsible for their dominance in the MP3 market, where they succeed in selling at a high price point in spite of a product that is not all that strongly differentiated from its competitors.
As a matter of pride, people are going to resent the implication that they aren't capable of making their own decisions. And certainly, Oprah doesn't hold anyone in a hypnotic spell (her ability to get hordes of people to purchase crap like A Million Little Pieces notwithstanding). But she might get people to get up off the couch and start becoming more engaged in the election, and when they do, to perceive things through a somewhat Obama-friendly lens. The researchers found that Oprah's involvement also increased votes for the other Democratic candidates -- just not as much as for Obama.
Is Martin a better candidate than Jones? Yes -- but Democrats ought not to be getting too excited. The most recent Rasmussen poll had shown Martin trailing Saxby Chambliss by 11 points, as opposed to Jones's 30-point deficit. Other polling from Strategic Vision had not had the race that tight, but that poll was somewhat dated, before Martin had really had the chance to introduce himself to the voters.
Still, the fundamentals work against him. Chambliss is fairly popular, and Georgia remains a red state. Martin's fundraising -- a little bit more than a million dollars so far -- is not bad for a challenger, but is no match for Saxby's numbers, and one wonders how much cash Martin has left on hand after what was a 10-round primary fight. Martin had served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 18 years, but that is relatively low-profile work. His issue positions, though well presented, are more or less in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, and it remains fairly hard for a non-Blue Dog Democrat to win in the South.
This is not to disparage Martin, who has run a likable, professional campaign and has some upside as a candidate. But, it's awfully hard to sell that upside when you're left with only a couple of months to do it. There is a give-and-take in setting a primary date -- if you hold it too early, voters may not be tuned in enough to make an informed choice. But clearly, it can't help a party when it doesn't know its nominee until August.
The other point of interest tonight is the AP-Ipsos national poll, which shows Obama ahead by 6 points -- closely matching the 7-point lead he had in the last Ipsos poll, which was conducted immediately after the Democratic primaries were concluded. The national tracking polls, meanwhile, have begun to diverge, with John McCain retaining a 1-point lead in the Rasmussen tracker, but Barack Obama inching up to a 4-point lead in Gallup.
Since the polls gave us a little bit of a breather today, Mark Blumenthal's point at Pollster.com is worth reading:
These data paint a clear picture [...] Most Americans are paying far less attention to news about the campaign than most journalists, pundits and readers of this site. If we assume that all Americans are following the campaign as a jury follows a trial, we are in error.Pundits -- including yours truly -- generally exaggerate the speed with which political news reaches a saturation depth in the American electorate. There are a few exceptions -- debates, conventions, and major victories in the primaries can have measurable effects almost immediately, and certainly within the first 48-72 hours. So can DEFCON-2 level controversies like Jeremiah Wright. But most of the things we write about here, or the National Review talks about, or Keith Olbermann talks about, take a long time to penetrate the electorate if they do so at all. To attribute the current polling milieu, then, to something like McCain's recent wave of negative advertising is probably irresponsible. It may take weeks to know whether the ads have been effective, or whether there is any sort of backlash.
For the third consecutive week, our overall Senate forecast remains the same. We project the Democrats to control 55.3 seats, the Republicans 42.7, and independents two seats in the 111th Congress. However, there is movement in some individual races.
The most notable case in Alaska, where two polls taken after Ted Stevens' indictment have Democratic candidate Mark Begich ahead by 13 and 21 points, respectively. Although there is a chance that Stevens could be primaried out, none of the other Republican opponents were doing any better against Begich. We now classify Alaska as a likely Democratic pickup.
The Mississippi-B seat has moved from Toss-Up to Lean GOP as a result of new Rasmussen polling that shows Roger Wicker 9 points ahead of Democratic challenger Ronnie Musgrove. In general, the Democrats seem to be losing a little ground in traditionally red states against GOP incumbents. This could perhaps be because of a slight improvement in perceptions of the Republican brand, as a result of issues like offshore drilling and the improved conditions in Iraq. More generally, although Senate races frequently break late, there are a number of cases such as in North Carolina and Kentucky in which Democrats are losing time off their clocks while failing to close the polling gap, which costs them incrementally each week.
One race to keep an eye on, however, might be in Idaho. A Research 2000 poll -- the first independent poll out of Idaho in months -- shows Republican Jim Risch with a 10-point lead over Larry LaRocco. However, there remain a lot of votes up for grabs in this race, as 24 percent of the electorate is either uncommitted or say they'll vote for a third party.
In a study released today, however, Pew’s nonpartisan Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that McCain’s Britney Spears-Paris Hilton week finally brought him even with Obama on the former count – the issue of Obamacentrism:
The spike in press attention to the McCain campaign came a week after Obama's tour of the Middle East and Europe commandeered the headlines, accounting for half the election coverage for July 21-27. It also came a week after the media engaged in a spasm of introspection, amid a wave of accusations that the media was being unfair to the GOP standard bearer. The third biggest campaign storyline for July 21-27 was the issue of whether the press was biased toward and lavishing too much attention on Obama.On Friday, I argued that the fact even Democratic voters by an 18-point margin (36 among Indies and 70 among Republicans) perceive the press to be Obamaphilic reflects disconnect between the countless partisan blogosphere writings about a pro-McCain bias and real-world public awareness. Whereas the blogosphere has successfully pushed a message into the public mainstream at other times (Talking Points Memo and the US Attorneys scandal springs to mind), I concluded this disconnect shows that thus far Democratic partisans have failed to sell their case and (provided they actually want to have that fight) need a new strategy to convince the public.
Bloggers and cable show "Democratic Guy/Gal" analysts are Malcolm Gladwell’s mavens, people who absorb vast minutiae of topical information and then connect others to the information. In this case, various specific examples of press protection of McCain are simply not sticking in the public mind. The mavens have failed to connect their gathered information to the public consciousness. To note that it simply isn't working is an honest admission.
Yesterday, Chris Bowers criticized this conclusion, suggesting that the reason even Democrats believe that the press favors Obama (the topic of my original post) is that Obama put the kibosh on 527s in the name of running a cleaner, more message-controlled campaign. Presumably, more 527 ads would persuade voters to believe the press is favoring McCain, though I find this a dubious argument. 527 ads (say, from Vote Vets) would shine more light on McCain’s voting record, but wouldn’t obviously change minds that the press prefers Obama.
I should have made it more clear in my original post that I don't think it should necessarily fall to bloggers to make sure the public knows the press often covers for McCain, though bloggers and Democratic cable-talkers naturally fill that role. The press should simply apply the same standards to both candidates – if it would get big play that CBS had edited an Obama answer importantly distorting his retelling of the surge timeline as an example of press bias, then it should cover the same story about CBS protecting McCain. Ads, 527s or otherwise, have a different purpose and should not be reduced to whining about unfairness.
One of the reasons this theme about the press and Obamaphilism is hard to change can be attributed to a self-inflicted intraparty wound begun during the primary. Hillary Clinton’s choice to push the Alan Keyes-like complaining about debate process and her trumpeting of the SNL caricature of the press openly coddling Obama cemented the theme. Pew agrees:
In some ways, the media's soul searching over its own role, and the resulting spike upward in coverage of McCain, were perhaps predictable. This had happened before, back during the primaries between Obama and Hillary Clinton. The week of Feb. 25-March 2, after Clinton complained about a pro-Obama bias and cited a Saturday Night Live skit to make her point, the press spent considerable time examining the possibility it was being unfair. And it followed that the next week, Clinton generated more coverage than her Democratic rival, reversing a trend of several weeks when Obama had been the top newsmaker.Now the question is whether the Obamacentrism of the coverage will return in subsequent weeks, and if so whether equal coverage volume will begin to change the polling numbers on perceptions of press bias. Stay tuned.
Conventional wisdom has held that neither candidate would pick his running mate during the Olympic Games, because once underway the Games would occupy the nation’s attention at the expense of political news. Granted, some of this is coming from commentators on MSNBC, who can’t exactly claim neutrality – the NBC family would love the Olympics to drown out every other current event. But it has been taken as a given that neither candidate would get much chance to reach voters with his message during those two weeks.
The vice presidential pick is big political news, but consider what the Obama campaign’s ideal scenario is: dozens and dozens of ads aimed at a national audience permitting the Democrats to define and frame the ticket on their own terms. Biographical spots, smiling running mates, optimistic, patriotic, flag-waving images, and no countering ads from the Republicans that define the ticket in negative terms. It’s a mass first impression of an optimistic, change ticket Obama would want to make, and almost a free field to make that impression (there are no reports of any McCain Olympic ad buy, and negative ads during the Olympics feel tonally off). The goal is just enough attention so that huge numbers of viewers come away absorbing a positive feeling from seeing the visuals, with the Games providing just enough cover to elide viewer attention to the dissecting commentary that accompanies such big news.
So how would the VP announcement unfold? It’s unlikely – though certainly possible – that Obama would reveal the pick in an ad itself. The campaign showed a fondness for all-network, blanket, two-minute closing ads during the primary season and there would be huge anticipation if they could simultaneously promise a big announcement while keeping the lid on the secret. However, in this case it would amount to giving NBC an exclusive and would unnecessarily risk catty feelings among rival networks.
Instead, an all-network press conference during the day followed quickly by the first introduction ad in Olympics prime time would both capture a lot of eyeballs and allow the Obama camp to control the all-important imagery. For what it's worth, Michael Phelps – so big a story that the Olympic schedule was adjusted specifically to put him in American prime time – has individual gold pursuits during prime time on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday next week.
How much time would you need to cut some of those ads? 21 hours?
Update: Well, no sooner did I post this early this morning than we heard John McCain is buying $6M worth of ad time for the Olympics. Smart move, not to leave the entire playing field to Obama. (Perhaps in a panic they read this post? Ha ha.) Some of our regular knee-jerk Obama-is-an-arrogant-celebrity commenters who posted early in reply may have to recalibrate the kneejerkery. Still, I think McCain is at a disadvantage by the nature of the Olympics themselves. As I said above, there would be something tonally jarring to come off a feel-good event and be confronted with a negative ad. McCain should use the opportunity to reinforce his own biography, and perhaps also introduce his own running mate during the freebee framing time. Al Giordano has a smart speculation post about it possibly being Pawlenty here.
Bayh gets a bad rap in the liberal blogopshere because he is perceived as a centrist. There is a grain of truth in that; he certainly isn't Bernie Sanders. But he also isn't from Vermont. He's from Indiana -- and I would argue that Bayh is about as liberal a senator as Indiana is likely to elect.
The chart below compares two things. Along the left-right axis is the liberalness each state's electorate, as determined by how voters identified themselves in 2004 exit polling. Along the vertical axis is the liberalness of each of the 100 sitting senators, as determined by averaging their VoteView ordinal ranking from the 108th, 109th and 110th Congresses. Democrats, naturally, are demarcated in blue, Republicans in red, and independents in green.
Unsurprisingly, there is a rather strong relationship between the liberalness of a state and the liberalness of its senators, whether or not one separates the senators by party (the red and blue trendlines) or groups them all together (the black trendline).
By either measure, Bayh is considerably more liberal than you would expect of a Democrat from Indiana. The most conservative states to presently have elected Democratic senators are Indiana, Nebraska, and Arkansas (which has two Democrats). Bayh is notably more liberal than either Nebraska's Ben Nelson, or Arkansas' Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln. The next-most conservative states with Democratic senators are Louisiana and South Dakota; Bayh is more liberal than Tim Johnson or Mary Landrieu. Put differently, there is no senator more liberal than Bayh in any state more conservative than Indiana.
We can think about this a bit more scientifically by comparing a senator's VoteView ranking -- lower rankings indicate more liberal voting records -- with that expected of a typical senator from that state, regardless of his or her party. This is represented by the black regression line in the chart above. We would ordinarily expect a senator from Indiana to have a VoteView ranking of 73.0 -- squarely in the middle of the Republican party. Bayh's ranking, instead, is a 33.3 -- only slightly more conservative than an average Democratic senator. Relative to his state, Bayh is the third most liberal senator, trailing only Tom Harkin and Sherrod Brown:
Most Liberal Senators Relative to StateIf we look at the senators relative to both their states and their party -- these are the red and blue regression lines -- Bayh is in a tie with Sheldon Whitehouse as the 5th most liberal Democrat.
___ Voteview Ranking (108th-110th)
Senator State Expected Actual Delta
Harkin D-IA 53.9 6.3 -47.5
Brown D-OH 50.5 8.0 -42.5
Bayh D-IN 73.0 33.3 -39.8
Feingold D-WI 45.0 6.5 -38.5
Lincoln D-AR 74.4 41.5 -32.9
Most Conservative Senators Relative to State
___ Voteview Ranking (108th-110th)
Senator State Expected Actual Delta
Gregg R-NH 42.4 89.0 +48.9
Allard R-CO 47.5 94.0 +47.0
Sununu R-NH 40.0 86.8 +46.7
Kyl R-AZ 57.2 99.7 +42.4
Ensign R-NV 52.5 93.2 +40.6
Most Liberal Senators Relative to State and PartyThere will undoubtedly be a myriad of objections to this methodology, but the point is that governance does not occur in a vacuum: a senator has a goal of championing legislation in line with his ideology, but he also has a goal of getting re-elected. Indeed, there is some evidence that Bayh has become more liberal. Here is Bayh's VoteView ranking in each of the last four Congresses -- remember that lower scores indicate a more liberal voting record.
Democrats___ Voteview Ranking (108th-110th)
Senator State Expected Actual Delta
Harkin D-IA 32.7 6.3 -26.4
Brown D-OH 31.0 8.0 -23.0
Feingold D-WI 28.2 6.5 -21.7
Boxer D-CA 19.9 3.7 -16.2
Whitehouse D-RI 13.0 4.0 -9.0
Bayh D-RI 42.3 33.3 -9.0
Republicans___ Voteview Ranking (108th-110th)
Senator State Expected Actual Delta
Lugar R-IN 80.1 56.3 -23.7
Bennett R-UT 83.6 66.2 -17.4
Warner R-VA 75.8 58.7 -17.1
Specter R-PA 68.0 52.3 -15.7
Voinovich R-OH 72.2 57.0 -15.2
Most Conservative Senators Relative to State and Party
Democrats___ Voteview Ranking (108th-110th)
Senator State Expected Actual Delta
Klobuchar D-MN 24.2 38.5 +14.3
Carper D-DE 26.7 40.7 +14.0
Kerry D-MA 7.0 20.5 +13.5
Tester D-MT 33.6 47.0 +13.4
Baucus D-MT 33.6 46.0 +12.4
Republicans___ Voteview Ranking (108th-110th)
Senator State Expected Actual Delta
Kyl R-AZ 74.6 99.7 +25.1
Allard R-CO 71.0 94.0 +23.0
McCain R-AZ 74.6 96.8 +22.3
DeMint R-SC 77.6 99.0 +21.4
Gregg R-NH 68.6 89.0 +20.4
Bayh became somewhat liberal between the 108th and 109th Congresses. What happened between the 108th and 109th Congresses? Bayh won re-election by a landslide margin, and perhaps recognized that he had a little bit more wiggle room to move from the right edge of the Democratic Party more toward the Party's mainstream. The only reason this might occur, I would argue, is that Bayh is at heart a fairly progressive senator.
___ VoteView Ranking
Congress All Sens Dems Only
107th 43/102 42/50
108th 42/100 41/47
109th 28/101 27/45
110th 30/101 29/49
One needs to remember that Evan's father, Birch Bayh, had quite a strong progressive track record, being the principal architect and sponsor of both the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18, and the Equal Rights Amendment. Bayh eventually lost to Dan Quayle in the Republican landslide year of 1980 as the country passed into the present, highly partisan era, as Quayle successfully attacked Bayh on his liberal voting record.
As a candidate for national office, free from the constraints of electoral politics in a red state like Indiana, Bayh might surprise both Democrats and Republicans with how liberal he turns out to be. Bayh's positioning in the Senate has not been notably different from either Al Gore or John Edwards, who are two of the left's heroes. The downside to Democrats? Because Bayh is far more liberal than you'd expect of a typical senator from Indiana, this would be one of the most damaging Senate seats for them to lose.
Today, however, we have a set of state polling out that does indicate some tightening in the race:
The most interesting results are in Florida and Massachusetts. In Florida, SurveyUSA shows John McCain ahead by 6 points. The only other time it had polled Florida, back in late February, McCain had been ahead by 2. This result is driven in part by SurveyUSA's party identification figures; SurveyUSA does not adjust its results for partisan ID, and they drew a sample that gives the Republicans a 43-38 edge in party affiliation. The conventional wisdom is that party affiliation in Florida should be about evenly divided or somewhat tilted to the Democrats; nevertheless, there may be some softening in the Democrats' party ID edge nationwide, perhaps because of the improved situation on the ground in Iraq.
The Massachusetts poll from Suffolk is interesting mostly for the trendline; Obama leads by 9 points now after having led by 23 points in June. He experienced a particular decline among men: perhaps McCain's 'Celebrity' advertising campaign, which among other things seeks to emasculate Obama, has had more resonance with men than with women.
Apart from the state polls, there are now a couple of national polls that show McCain with a slight lead. One is the Rasmussen national tracker, which has McCain ahead 47-46, and the other is a new telephone survey from Zogby, which has McCain up 42-41.
Throwing everything together, we still see Obama with a national lead of about 2 points, but polling over the past 72 hours has indicated an even tighter race. Obama faces an interesting decision about whether to try and get out in front of the news cycle and create some drama of his own -- perhaps with a VP selection or some aggressive lines of attack against John McCain -- or to let the cycle play out organically, hoping that McCain's negative advertising will begin to backfire on him.
When McCain is speaking to a television camera, and Obama is on the other side of the country, this behavior probably does not do much to harm public perception of him (the disastrous Green Background Speech perhaps being something of an exception). McCain can be seen as attacking OBAMA! (TM), the brand, rather than Barack Obama, the man. Besides that, McCain is (rightly) viewed as the underdog in this race, which can make this attitude easier to swallow.
When the two men are on the same soundstage, however, McCain does not have the same buffer -- an attack will seem far more personal. Contemptuousness, condescension -- these things are unappealing qualities in a potential President, as Obama himself ought to know:
Likewise, George W. Bush's sneering performance at the Miami debate on September 30, 2004 was nearly a disaster for him; John Kerry closed his polling deficit from about 8 points to 2 nearly overnight:
The first President Bush also had some problems with this. Note his sarcastic disposition toward Bill Clinton in this vintage footage, and particularly in his response that begins about 8:05 into the clip.
Even this famous moment did not produce any bounce for the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket in the polls:
It can, of course, reasonably be argued that this contrast in tone and demeanor will not take more than three debates to establish. There is still some chance, in fact, that if McCain turns in a sufficiently unattractive performance during this year's first debate at the University of Mississippi, that may be all that is needed to tip the momentum of the election.
But in general, when an opponent is attacking you -- and McCain is attacking Obama now -- you'd rather make him do it when he's standing right next to you.
My conclusion is that this characterization is a bit misleading. The apparent underperformance of Obama can partially be explained by structural factors, most notably the fact that the Democrats have a wider, more diverse coalition than the Republicans. It is therefore more difficult for any one Democratic nominee to please all his party's constituents.
But also, Obama has heretofore been unable to brand John McCain as a Generic Republican, as McCain is regarded by much of the electorate as a moderate. In terms of their distance from the median voter, then, Obama v. McCain is a much fairer fight than would be indicated by their respective party affiliations:
In terms of party principles, the Democrats have already won the election. The party's liberal base didn't have to compromise on its candidate, whereas a substantial number of conservative Republicans did.In a sense, I think the media's Obamacentrism has confused it (the campaign coverage has certainly been Obamacentric -- though by no means always Obamaphilic). If Obama is underperforming a Generic Democrat, that is presumed to reflect some or another weakness of Obama's. But it could just as easily reflect some or another strength of John McCain's -- such as his perceived moderation. Since Obama was polling ahead of non-McCain Republicans by blowout margins, I would argue that the latter is more likely.
But the Republicans seem wise to have compromised, because polling showed that Obama was headed for a landslide victory if his opponent was an identifiably right-wing candidate.
According to polling averages compiled by the website RealClearPolitics, at the time they discontinued their respective presidential bids, Fred Thompson trailed Obama by 12 percentage points, Mitt Romney was behind by 15 and Mike Huckabee by 17. For that matter, a recent poll from Rasmussen Reports showed Obama leading President Bush by 20 percentage points in a hypothetical matchup.
McCain has managed to retain his reputation as a moderate and thereby avoid the fate of his conservative former rivals of falling far behind Obama. And so Democrats will aim to undermine McCain's perceived moderation -- by possibly highlighting his rightward shifts during the Republican primaries and by attempting to tie him to Bush. The problem for Obama is not so much that he's underperforming a generic Democrat. It's that he hasn't yet been able to re-brand McCain as a typically conservative Republican.
To make this something of an omnibus thread for media hits, you can listen to the audio of my interview last week with WNYC's Brian Lehrer here. And I'm cited in an article by The Politico's David Mark on electoral college ties here.
Remember all that sturm und drang over whether the Florida and Michigan delegates would be seated at all, given half votes, or seated in full? Some of us strongly argued that the math made it possible to allow Obama prior to the May 31 Rules and By-Laws Committee meeting to make this same call to seat the Florida and Michigan delegations in full, as-is. Call it the “Call Harold Ickes’ Bluff” option.
Today we learn that Obama is calling for those delegates to have full voting rights. Some folks will surely be distressed at what will now be a consequence-free lesson in ignoring the DNC calendar (yes, Republicans held the majority in the Florida state legislature, but not a single Democrat voted against the measure). The reality, of course, is that those delegates were never going to be snubbed at the convention. The final blink was always going to be the DNC’s. This is inside baseball stuff, to be sure. But file this one away in your memory bank as the 2012 primary calendar is formed.
In other news:
Politico notes that McCain is vetting Eric Cantor (R-VA). I’d love to take 4-1 on both candidates that they pick someone outside the top four. CNN passes along the comment from a vapid anonymous source who asserts that adding the congressman will “lock up” Virginia. Dear God, on this beautiful blue-skied Sunday, please deliver us from the X locks up his/her home state lazyminds. It’s unbearable.
The polls are moving hard against Ted Stevens in a race multiple polls already showed him trailing. He still holds a large lead in the primary, but keep an eye on that if Alaska Republicans start believing nominating him is a waste of a chance to hold the seat.
Chuck Todd argues that while McCain’s strategy to go negative against Obama is the best way to go after him, McCain’s own personal strengths and weaknesses undermine the effort because there’s not enough contrast – both are political celebrities.
The McCain campaign, meanwhile, has no offices in Indiana, and doesn't have plans to open any. From the Indianapolis Star article:
McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is taking a different approach to Indiana.
Some might call it confident; some might call it laid-back at best.I have suggested before that there is a certain arrogance in the way that the McCain campaign conceives of the electoral map. While they have come around on states like Virginia, they have been slow to acknowledge that Obama has any chance in states like Montana, Indiana, and North Dakota, where polling has indicated a tight race. There have been seven Indiana polls conducted since April; McCain led in four of those polls, while Obama led in the other three.
Asked whether the campaign has any plans to open an office in Indiana, campaign spokeswoman Leah Yoon -- who is based in Michigan, not Indiana -- had a one-word answer: "No."
Our demographic model thinks that Obama is somewhat defying gravity in Indiana and that McCain remains the slight favorite. Nevertheless, it thinks that Indiana will play a more central role in determining the outcome of the election than other ostensible swing states like Missouri, Wisconsin, Oregon or North Carolina. And one needn't go back very far to remember what happens when one campaign competes in a state and the other doesn't. Think of Obama's half-hearted efforts to compete in Kentucky, West Virginia and South Dakota in the Democratic primaries, and what happened to his results there. Likewise, consider the way that the Clinton campaign tried to hedge its bets in South Carolina and Wisconsin, and how voters in those states reacted. Or, consider the entire strategy of the Rudy Giuliani campaign outside the state of Florida.
Obama will spend nearly 24 consecutive hours in South Bend, Indiana on Tuesday and Wednesday, leading to speculation that he could name Evan Bayh as his Vice Presidential nominee. Should Obama take advantage of the opportunity in Indiana and pick Bayh? Perhaps; Bayh is exceptionally popular in Indiana, including with independents and many Republicans. But that might also give the McCain campaign an excuse to wake up and invest some resources in that state, which it is presently either too cocky or too afraid to betray weakness to do. It might be better to let the McCain campaign think it is calling a bluff, and instead show him a good hand.