Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Obama's lead increasing.

When even Fox election pundit Dick Morris is predicting an Obama win McCain shoud know he's got trouble, and McCain has .... big trouble both in the polls and strategically.

First, the polls from RealClearPolitics:

RCP Average09/21 - 09/29--48.143.0Obama +5.1
Gallup Tracking09/27 - 09/292729 RV4943Obama +6
Rasmussen Tracking09/27 - 09/293000 LV5145Obama +6
Hotline/FD Tracking09/27 - 09/29901 RV4741Obama +6
GW/Battleground Tracking09/24 - 09/29800 LV4846Obama +2
CBS News/NY Times09/21 - 09/24LV4843Obama +5
FOX News09/22 - 09/23900 RV4539Obama +6
Marist09/22 - 09/23689 LV4944Obama +5

Perhaps as importantly, Obama's lead it protected by several factors as we move into the final month of the campaign for the White House:

* Economy problems will help Obama. Even if these are resolved it'll be hard for McCain to take much credit for the solutions and dodge blame for the problems which most are pinning mostly on GW Bush and the Republicans.

* Sarah Palin will wind up hurting McCain. Even many conservatives are alarmed by Palin's challenges facing media scrutiny and what appears to be a clear history of not concerning herself with global issues. Expectations are very low for Thursday's debate with Joe Biden which may work to Palin's advantage, but unless the Palin perceptions change dramatically she appears to be a liability on McCain right now with the very voters she needed to secure - moderate women.

* Ohio's registration rules were just changed to allow same day registration which is likely to help Obama because first time and young voters are more likely to be Obama supporters.

* Obama dodged the potential bullets of the first debate and came out as the clear winner among undecided voters even in that mostly foreign policy forum. The next debates feature stronger Obama territory so McCain needs a knockout punch to shift opinion dramatically.

Palin, Pakistan, and Philly Cheesesteaks

Sara Palin deserves a lot of the media criticism she's getting, both for being largely inaccessible to the media and also for her apparent lifetime lack of interest in the complexity and nuance of international politics - a skill that is important for anybody in top office who will be negotiating with world leaders.


The media "analysis" of Sara Palin's recent comments to a young Democratic party hack while in a Philly Cheesesteak line are nonsensical, bordering on the drooling stupidity we've come to know as .. TV Journalism.

Palin suggested that the US should pursue terrorists across the Pakistan border if necessary, a policy embraced by Obama but rejected by McCain. It's not clear to me how this is even a gaffe, let alone something indicating she's not qualified to be President. Clearly a President and VP can disagree on some policy issues, and more importantly this "gotcha" approach to journalism leaves key issues undiscussed in favor of mostly irrelevant sound bites. CNN today interviewed the fellow who asked the question - a Democratic party activist - who appeared to seize this Cheesesteak opportunity to make Palin look inconsistent with McCain and then I think lied that he had that agenda.

What is wrong with the media? Bias is not the key problem here, rather *superficiality*.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Do Polls Matter?

Contrary to common belief, polls actually offer a reasonable window into outcomes and generally are the best way to understand election trends. For example a national CNN poll in October of 2000 showed Bush with a slight lead over Gore and he wound up winning. This is not a great example because Gore did narrowly win the popular vote, but the point is that the CNN poll showed Gore and Bush about equal in October and they were about equal in the final vote.

Almost all the latest national polls show Obama with a lead of about 4-5%, though I don't think the debate's effect on things - if any - is reflected in any of them. I'm in the camp that believes this is now Obama's election to lose. Obama is ahead by enough and the debate seemed even enough that it will be difficult for McCain to gain more than few points barring the kind of events that now appear unlikely. Although the Palin / Biden VP debate is very anxiously anticipated I doubt that Palin is going to score any points for McCain, and the final two debates with Obama are likely to go the same way as the first - where the candidates appeal mostly to their own constituencies with McCain appearing to lose some points for his "angry" attitude, which I think helps explain why most non committed voters thought Obama won last night.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Electoral College Adventures - what if 269 to 269?

If you've played around with the RealClearPolitics Electoral map you'll know there are several scenarios where Obama and McCain might split the electoral vote right down the middle with 269 votes each. What you might NOT know is how this tie is broken. Yes, it's a congressional vote but not simply one vote per congressman which would almost certainly give an Electoral tie to Obama since the Democrats are unlikely to lose control of Congress. But wait... in this electoral tie scenario my understanding is that each *state* gets ONE vote per state congressional delegation and each Senator gets one vote. Making this even more unpredictable is the fact that it's not entirely clear if the old or incoming congress would vote though I think I read it would be the new congress as it's first act in office.

I haven't found a source yet that looks at all the current state congressional delegations to see if how they'd likely split in an electoral tie. Let's hope that piece of trivia remains ... largely irrelevant.

Debate polls

CNN's phone poll of about 500 showed Obama as the strong debate winner among those who watched, but John King at CNN noted that since more Democrats tend to watch debates this poll does not give us a good enough picture of things. We'll want to know how each candidate fared within their own parties and more importantly how noncommitted voters viewed this debate. Ultimately the candidates need to change minds, not reinforce existing votes from already supportive constituencies.

Fox's text poll, now underway on TV, is a shamelessly foolish excercise in biased polling that will offer little insight into anything. Fox viewers are not representative of national averages, and since only Fox viewers can participate in that poll (other folks won't see the contact number) it's probably going to show a huge McCain bias. The text aspect is also a distortion which will pull in FOX's younger viewers. Unlike CNN's phone poll which reasonably is a measure of *all* those who viewed the debate, FOX is a measure of how FOX viewers viewed the debate.

82 percent McCain in the FOX poll. Fair? balanced?. More like extremely biased. I can't believe people think this is journalism.

Debate 1: A Tie?

It's going to be very interesting to see the reactions to the first Presidential debate though based on CNN's fascinating and somewhat distracting "Audience Reaction" trend lines it looks like this debate won't change many minds.

Most Republicans will be comforted by McCain's responses and most Democrats by Obamas. Independents - potentially a very significant group of undecided voters - did not seem to show a strong preference unless I missed something, though at the end of the debate it really appeared that Obama scored well and McCain poorly - perhaps because Obama seemed more positive and less distracted as things wound up and the audience seemed to react most positively to positive messages.

Fannie Mae Reform Bill Fact Check - McCain was NOT an original sponsor...

Reports that John McCain was at the forefront of legislation that would have prevented the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac appear to be greatly exaggerated, though it took more than a little sleuthing to figure this out.

McCain shows as one of three cosponsors of the legislation spearheaded by Chuck Hagel. A quick read of it does not suggest to me that the authors saw a pending catastrophe, but even if they did it was very odd to find that John McCain's name did NOT appear on the legislation when it was introduced. In fact he cosponsored this a full 16 months *after* it was introduced for reasons I don't have time to figure out, but given the time frame it would appear this was done more for political affect than anything else.

Here's the official record:

Title: A bill to address the regulation of secondary mortgage market enterprises, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen Hagel, Chuck [NE] (introduced 1/26/2005) Cosponsors (3)
Latest Major Action: 7/28/2005 Senate committee/subcommittee actions. Status: Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Ordered to be reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute favorably.
COSPONSORS(3), ALPHABETICAL [followed by Cosponsors withdrawn]: (Sort: by date)http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:SN00190:@@@P

More from the news: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2008/sep/17/mccains-warning-fannie-and-freddie/

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Obama to McCain: See You Friday Dude!

It's too early to say but it looks to me like the McCain campaign suspension play is backfiring in part due to Obama's response to McCain which is clear and is "see ya Friday, dude"...

This was a bold play by McCain but since he waited until the last minute he's on *very* thin ice arguing that he's got no place attending the most anticipated presidential debate in history. His proposal to delay the Palin Biden debate - a duel that is almost as interesting to the public as the McCain Obama debate - will only add to the speculation that this is a political rather than bipartisan presidential play.

Suggesting that McCain will debate Obama if congress enacts a plan by Friday seems unlikely to do more than complicate and confuse the many issues at hand and offer the Democrats a type of dysfunctional control over McCain's plans.

If Obama is sitting on the stage Friday without McCain it is unlikely to bode well for McCain unless Obama makes the mistake of saying something outrageous which is unlikely. In fact the imagery of John McCain wandering around D.C. trying to broker a deal with a congress that is mostly hostile to his candidacy would not appear to paint a pretty campaign picture.

McCain to Obama: Suspend Campaign - Let's Work Together

John McCain has temporarily suspended his campaign and will return to Washington to campaign for the fiscal reform package aka "The Bailout", which he feels is of critical importance.

This is a remarkable move that is very consistent with the kind of bipartisan political cooperation both McCain and Obama talk so much about. However it's also something of a curve ball thrown to Obama, who must either look like a "follower" by joining McCain or look opportunistic if he refuses.

Clearly politics played something of a role here because McCain could have called Obama and had them issue a joint announcement *update: McCain said he called Obama before his announcement to inform him of the decision*.

So what should Obama do? Both strategically and realistically he should counter-propose to McCain a high level meeting with the Bush folks and the economic advisors of both campaigns (one of which will take over this mess) . Together a bipartisan bill should be crafted that addresses the crisis immediately.

Google "In Quotes" project lets you track down the truth

Google Labs has a great new project that searches the internet for quotes by Obama and McCain on any topic you enter, allowing you to compare what the candidates *reportedly* said about any topic.

The tool will need to be used with some caution as it is not clear if this will screen out misquotes, though presumably In Quotes won't search through highly partisan websites and will stick to responsible journalistic outlets to decide what the candidates said.

Eventually this will extend to all political races, giving reporters and voters a great resource in the fight for ... truth in politics...

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's the Economy, and we are ALL stupid.

On the one hand, it is mistaken to suggest that the pending economic disasters are the fault of people or parties more than the collective fault of our hopelessly inefficient and politicized, lobbied, and manipulated regulatory systems combined with serious flaws in our capitalist infrastructure.

That said, it's very hard to escape the fact that the Bush administration will be seen - probably with justification - as the party most asleep at the wheel as the American economy was teetering on the brink of collapse. This is likely to play far better for Obama the McCain, and unless the McCain party line can find a way to distance itself from the huge failures of current US economic policy Obama's lead is likely to become insurmountable. McCain will have to find a way to acknowledge that the current economic situation is totally unsustainable but not the fault of the Bush administration. This will be a tough row to hoe.

I'm by no means suggesting that Obama and fellow Democrats should not shoulder some of the blame for the current crisis. Although they have been ranting against the current economic approaches of the Bush administration it appears pretty clear that the Democrats - like the Republicans - failed to see looming catastrophe until it was too late. More importantly Democrats failed to intervene years ago when the seeds of the current catastrophe were planted. In fact a key Obama advisor was the CEO of Fannie Mae until 2004. If Obama keeps him on board (or lets him go as he shoud) I'd say both of them have some explainin' to do.

I'm very unclear about why this crisis was not at least the subject of a lot more speculation, because it has been obvious for at least two years that the real estate bubble would burst, dropping trillions in equity from balance sheets.

The polls are starting to show a shift to Obama based on the dire economic news, and it seems likely this shift will continue. The importance of the debates on Friday is likely looming large for many undecided voters desparate to know who can return prosperity to a flagging US economy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wall Street Connections for Obama and McCain

This excellent article has details about both McCain and Obama's campaign contribution connections to Wall Street, including some of the firms now getting bailed out by ... you and me and other taxpayers.

Twisted campaign commercial banter notwithstanding, it's clear to anybody that their is a very questionable relationship between campaign contributions and legislation. It's not that Obama or McCain have some sort of quid pro quo with contributors - they do NOT have that. However, it's clear that contributions help keep supporters in power and keep those to whom they contribute within earshot, key reasons companies spend so much on politics.

Like pigs with lipstick, the campaigns and foolish journalistic lackeys failing are failing to discuss or report about the key issues in the race: A Challenged Economy and looming home equity disaster, war and global hegemony and dangerous adversaries, and massive Government Spending. Unfortunately clear thinkers won't find a candidate with good ideas about all these things. Where are the founders when you need them?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Let the real race begin!

The Convention dust appears to have settled, leaving us with a close race and a slight Obama lead - probably narrower than before the conventions and the remarkable rise of Sarah Palin as McCain's muse. Palin has effectively consolidated McCain's formerly unenthusiastic conservative support and appears to be drawing votes from some moderates who would like to see a woman in the office regardless of her politics.

A factor of interest that makes the polling even harder to read it the increasing level of media bias in the election. Where CNN maintains a modest, sufficient level of journalistic objectivity, Fox's talk shows and even some Fox anchors have always been unabashedly and unapologetically in support of the Republican agenda. Yet now we find a similar kind of zealotry on MSNBC, especially with Rachel Maddow Kieth Olberman whose partisanship is giving right winger Sean Hannity a run for his ideologically influenced journalistic money.

The challenge for the viewer is that the poll numbers are getting reported differently - so much so that today we have MSNBC reporting Obama in the lead and Fox reporting McCain, each probably overweighting their own problematic sampling methods. As usual RealClearPolitics is a great way to cut through the chatter with a great summary of all major polls and the RCP running average, which I'd suggest is the best way to determine what's going on nationally.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Sarah Palin Interviews

ABC, with the only Sarah Palin interview to date, is slowly releasing clips with a longer edition tonight on ABC's news program 20/20. The interviews are in a fairly informal format with Charles Gibson, one of the most knowledgeable reporters on network TV.

In my opinion Palin has produced no gaffes nor really shined. She appears to be a sincere, conservative ideologue, very dedicated to her party and the McCain campaign. She is clearly not particularly well informed on broad global issues, seeming to prefer tight, ideologically based opinions to those formed from detailed research or a study of history.

It remains to be seen how the critical "swing voters" of key states like Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, and Colorado will view Sarah Palin. Polls still seem to reflect the overwhelming media attention of the past few days so it will be a week or so before meaningful information sort of sets the "starting point" for the big race, and as always the race will be won or lost not on the basis of total votes but on electoral voting and state by state strategies.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Rove: Watch Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado

Karl Rove penned a very interesting electoral analysis last month where he suggests that the race is likely to hinge on the outcome in four key states: Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado. Since the decision is made on the basis of electoral votes and not popular vote, and since several states award all their votes rather than proportional distribution of electoral votes, certain states will matter where others are pretty much a given for either McCain (e.g. Texas) or Obama (e.g. New York).

I see Ohio as pretty much the key battleground state. Ohio was key in 2004 when GW Bush's narrow victory there gave him the win over John Kerry. Although the 2004 race there was not as close as Florida's (where the butterfly ballot fiasco created a super narrow win for Bush even though the intention of several thousand voters was to to vote for Gore but ballot design meant they voted for both Gore and Buchanon and thus had the ballot spoiled. As I've note before Florida 2000 is usually analyzed strangely and wrongly - either as a Supreme Court "coup" or as a real "win" by Bush. It was neither, rather it was a fluke of our terrible electoral system (which should award electors proportionally) and ballot irregularities (which are hard to fix but won't matter nearly as much if we use a national vote count).

So, Ohio probably holds the key to the election, and if you live there get ready to watch more TV ads than you've ever seen on a single topic in your entire life...

Palin's first major media interview with Charlie Gibson, ABC News

ABC has posted some small clips from tonight's interview with Sarah Palin here:

You may want to wait for the full interview later tonight to avoid watching a 30 second ad to see a one minute clip.

McCain beating Obama in popular vote, electoral still edging towards Obama.

The Republican convention dust and bumps have yet to settle, and perhaps more importantly Sarah Palin remains carefully closeted away from personal media interaction. Yet one thing that is clear is that McCain's choice of Palin has breathed new life into his campaign and that he appears to be leading in the national popular vote, though most electoral counts still seem to favor Obama by a very narrow electoral vote margin. Given the incredible closeness it is again possible that we'll see our very questionable electoral voting system overtun the popular vote as it did in 2000. It is important to note that it's not clear how the popular voting would change if candidates could spend more time campaigning in their strongholds - something that is not done much in the electoral system because the battleground states are the key to the win.

Ohio is again emerging as the probable *key* battleground state, with polls showing McCain and Obama tied right now.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

McCain v. Obama

As the dust and bluster of the two conventions dies down and polls appear to be closing we enter the final and decisive stretch of the Presidential election. If today's speech action is any indication of what is to come, we'll see McCain and Palin as a hard hitting tag-team combining a lot of patriotism talk with sharp criticism of "our opponent".

In what I think is a strategic blunder by the Obama campaign is appears to be failing to understand Palin's appeal to patriotism and positivism. People like to feel good about their country and the coming changes, yet Obama's talking points are moving to negative themes like the economy and the tired "more of the same" talk that McCain's choice of Palin's has effectively demolished.

Reagan's campaign used this strategy successfully against Carter in 1980 when he branded Carter as the "malaise" President and himself as the reformer.

I think that if the campaign themes offer America the choice between moving *away* from problems (Obama) vs moving *towards* solutions (McCain), we'll see McCain breath a whole new life into a campaign that initially appeared crippled by his choice of a very conservative and somewhat inexperienced running mate.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

McCain Obama in the polls

The best place to follow the Presidential polls is RealClearPolitics.com where their RCP running average of major polls is arguably the best indication of where things are headed in the Presidential Election this year.

Today's running average shows Obama with a lead in all but the tied CBS News results, an average lead of 4.4% over McCain. These results do NOT reflect the post Palin speech results which promise to be interesting. Voters are now being force fed about as much information about Sara Palin as for any candidate in history, and it appears the McCain campaign will seek to control her interviews in a structured way - at least based on the recent cancelled interview after CNN's Campbell Brown challenged McCain's PR guy to provide examples of Palin's relevant executive experience. When he failed to do so she seemed exasperated and later the campaign "punished" CNN by cancelling a Larry King interview with Palin. I'm guessing the strategy will be to have Palin come out swinging in controlled environments like speeches and FOX news interviews but avoid direct confrontations with what McCain will increasingly brand as "liberal sympathizers" in the media. I continue to think this strategy will backfire as mainstream Americans will come to think that Palin's very strident conservatism is not in line with the average American's more moderate views on government, abortion, gun control, and more.

CNN's Cafferty today showed Iowa polling results with Obama in huge lead, arguing that this indicates how popular Obama is with white voters, though he's foolishly failing to note that Obama spent an *enormous* amount of time in the Iowa Caucus process. That state is not representative of how most Americans will view him, and tells us little about how the battle for middle class rural voters will shake out in the coming election.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin's Speech Enthusiam 40/45

CNN's poll of Palin Speech support appears to reflect party lines, though it would be interesting to see this broken down by party. Presumably Palin will need overwhelming support from Republicans for McCain's Palin strategy to work as she must peel off some Democratic support for the McCain Palin ticket to have much of a chance of success.

Most polls show Obama with a small lead of 3-5 percentage points, though the best measures are likely to come in a few weeks after all the convention excitement subsides.

How do you rate Republican VP choice Sarah Palin's convention speech?
Thumbs up 40% 22657
Thumbs down 45% 25051
Didn't watch 15% 8520

Who is that old guy next to Sarah Palin?

As the third day of the Republican Convention gets underway it's hard to hear much news about anything but McCain's VP pick Sarah Palin, Alaska's conservative reformist Governor who will speak tonight in Minneapolis - a speech that may attract as much attention as Barack Obama's rockstar-like show in Denver last week.

I'm starting to understand the simple and risky strategy behind McCain's very unusual choice of Palin, and I think it will prove to be a blunder of near Presidential proportions, but this remains to be seen.

One part of the strategy that has worked magnificently is how quickly Palin's VP nod has focused attention away from Obama and the Democratic Convention but Palin was also one of the very few (she may be the only) national polical figures who fit the following bill:

* Conservative. (esp. on pro life, pro guns, pro big military, anti social spending) McCain's lackluster support among many conservatives has been a major thorn in his side. Palin is *more* conservative than most of his conservative critics, and they clearly love this choice and will fight harder for this ticket than become disaffected by a McCain / Lieberman ticket which would have much better suited McCain's personal and political sensibilities.

* Female. McCain felt a woman on the ticket would help keep at least some disaffected Clinton supporters off balance and undecided. Despite the handful of Clinton-turned-Palin women FOX news will parade as an example of this strategy working, it's very unlikely that many of the core Clinton supporters will change party and ideological allegiance so dramatically. How many women will put gender above almost every other key Democratic issue? Very few.

* Young and attractive. McCain, more than anybody, is feeling the pain of going up against a rock star candidate. Palin's personal appeal helps shore up that front.

* Fighter. This last factor may be the single most important in the equation, and it is the one that helps make sense of what many see as a very strange McCain decision. McCain's personal style matches Palin's in several ways, and he sees Palin's unique situation with respect to her own baby Trig and her daughter's teen pregnancy as positive and provocative talking points in their fight for the presidency. Where some would say the Palin children challenges reflect some hypocrisy, McCain Palin will argue that the problems are not caused by teen pregnancy so much as missing dads and unsupportive families, and that right to life issues trump any potential disabilies - even the severe ones faced by Palin's baby son.

My view on this last factor is that it will probably backfire because it will be impossible for Palin to bring these talking points up without sounding like she is exploiting her family challenges for political gain. Only if she is directly challenged can she react dramatically and combatively and retain the sympathy of middle of the road Americans, and you won't see this type of direct attack. Democrats don't need to bring these issues up at all anyway. The media, always hungry for red meat analysis and conflict, will continue to report on them while Palin will struggle to find ways to counter those stories effectively since they won't be coming from a clear enemy.

End game? Palin gives Obama about 5-10 point advantage he would not have had if McCain had continued to focus on the "experience" issue and brought on an experienced VP.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Of Pregnancies and Palins.

It is painful to watch how hungrily the media has latched on to the Palin's pregnancy issue, even though you can argue that there is considerable irony or even hypocrisy when family values candidates appear to fail to even convince their own children to avoid the complex pitfalls of early sexual activity.

I would challenge the many conservatives who love to cast stones to spend a little more time looking in their mirror and at their candidate's kids. In a contest for "most responsible kids" you'd be hard pressed to find better examples than the kids of Kerry, Clinton, Biden who sure appear to believe more in personal accountability than their Republican counterparts who are not "bad kids" but sure do not seem to act as mature or responsible. But this is not all that relevant to the national debate (unless you try to proclaim that family values candidates make better parents).

My take on most of this is that the character assassinations that dominate politics (since the founders!) are pretty much a bunch of crap as far as I'm concerned. People like Palin, Obama, McCain, Biden all have some questionable stuff in the closet but nothing that suggests to me they don't have the best interests of the country at heart.

There are real differences in how we should move ahead, but I'm very confident *any* of those four people could steer our clumsy ship of state USS USA competently. I'm a big fan of Bill Clinton and JFK's intellects, but both made near-catastrophic errors of judgement many times in their presidencies.

The solution? Most decisions are best left to the experience of a good cabinet, and I think we should vote for each of those positions rather than let the president pick them paying too much attention to ideology and not enough the expertise, brilliance, and experience the cabinet deserves.