As I write, there are a mere twenty-seven days to go until the American people decide who they wish to see as their next president. Normally, about half the population doesn’t even bother to vote. For many, voting is irrelevant: “What difference does it make who is elected? Why waste my time?”
My own guess is that because of the unprecedented historical circumstances – the racial factor – the voter turnout will be a good bit larger this November 4; perhaps close to sixty percent. Some normally non-voters will vote simply to vote against Obama because he is black, but many more will vote for him because they see in him a change from what is typical American politics. A larger turnout should work in Obama’s favor.
Lots of things can happen in the next four weeks to change the campaign’s dynamics. In an American presidential election there is always the possibility of an “October Surprise”. They’ve happened before and they could happen again. A conspiracy-minded colleague of mine thinks the Republicans will announce in the next week or so they have captured and killed Osama bin Laden, an event that would swing the voters toward McCain. We’ll have to wait on that.
There is still one more presidential debate and that could change things as well. However, McCain doesn’t seem to have helped himself in the second debate this past Tuesday. In fact, he probably fell further behind. Most of the pundits, as well as the post-debate polls, gave the nod to Obama. The constant McCain attacks were fended off and Obama got in a few punches of his own. McCain may have seriously blundered when he once referred to his opponent as “that one.” Obama, on the other hand, appeared cool, collected, courteous and presidential. And since campaigns like this are far more about image than they are about issues, appearing presidential can make all the difference.
As I have suggested before, the sun simply shines on Barack Obama. Everything he touches turns to gold. The McCain-Palin duo seemed to be gaining significant traction in the aftermath of the Republican Convention. However, that first blush blew off the Palin rose. In several interviews, she has appeared absolutely clueless with regard to domestic or international affairs – or anything else, for that matter.. She mostly refuses to address the subject at hand and, instead, wanders off into flights of political babble in which nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions seems to tumble in profusion in no discernible pattern. Her speaking style often makes her sound like an utter moron which, of course, challenges McCain’s judgment for having chosen her in the first place.
Simultaneously, although it should have been anticipated many, many months (years?) ago, came the recent crisis of global capitalism of which I wrote last week. As of this writing, even though the so-called “bailout” legislation has finally been passed by the US Congress, global stock prices continue to plummet, “wealth” simply evaporates over the period of an hour or so and financial institutions around the world need to be “rescued” by various governments. A global panic seems to have set in as traders in New York, London, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Hong Kong, with their herd mentality, are shedding stocks as quickly as they can. Some are mentioning the unmentionable; i.e., that the current crisis is the worst since the Great Depression of eighty years ago.
While this crisis may be bad for many of us, it was manna from heaven for Obama’s presidential quest. Every time Obama needs a break, it seems to happen. Obama began pounding McCain with regard to the economy and his polling points went up. McCain’s erratic behavior and decision making over the last two weeks has hardly improved his standing.
McCain is seen to have an advantage with regard to foreign affairs while Obama’s expertise is seen in addressing domestic economic problems; in bringing change to the way Washington does things. With the economy at the forefront of voter thinking, Obama, according to the latest polling data, has surged into a significant lead. The average of all the various polls currently has Obama at 50%, to McCain's 43%.
More importantly, Obama is leading in the so-called swing states, and even some that have heretofore been deemed “safe Republican”. The American Electoral College is a complicated process that is not understood even by most Americans. I will try to explain how it works in a future column.
Suffice to say, there are 538 votes in the Electoral Collage and, in order to win, a candidate needs a simple majority: 270 votes. Some states are deemed to be “safe Republican” and others as “safe Democratic”. Other states lean to one party or the other. A final category is a group of states labeled "tossup,” which could go in either direction. It is the states labeled tossup that are the target of intense campaigning. In recent days, Obama has jumped ahead in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio. He has also gone slightly ahead in formerly Republican states such as Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. At the last count, if the election were held today, Obama would get 296 electoral votes and McCain 163. 79 are tossup. This would be enough for an Obama victory.
These numbers have obviously caused a panic in the McCain camp, the consequence of which has been an all out attack on Obama’s character. McCain would appear to have concluded that he cannot beat Obama on the issues; therefore, the only alternative is to go completely negative, throwing mud all over the place and hope enough of it sticks.
The Republicans seem on the verge of panic as McCain’s poll numbers sink rapidly. As they get more and more desperate, they will use increasingly desperate tactics. Palin was running around the country last week claiming that Obama was “palling around” with terrorists. Bill Ayers is a professor at the University of Illinois and lives in the same Chicago neighborhood as Obama. Forty years ago Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dorhn were founding members of the Weather Underground, a leftist group that blew up several buildings in protest against the Vietnam War. Obama was eight years old at the time. Ayers and Dohrn hosted a small fund raising party for Obama a decade ago when he was running for Illinois state senator. They also served together on several foundation boards dealing with educational issues in Chicago.
Then, of course, there is the appeal to subliminal racism. Palin suggested several times last week that Obama not an American like “we are”, that he doesn’t have “our values”, that somehow he was not a real American and, therefore, should be rejected by the American voter. As I’ve suggested before, the Republicans are the experts at sleaze and fear campaigns. The more desperate they get, the nastier and more vicious the attacks on Obama will become.