Two weeks to go—time enough for one last case of Democratic wobbles and one last resort fueled by Republican desperation.
Democrats, scarred by the stolen election of 2000 and the near miss of 2004, privately worry, wring their hands and, traveling cyberspace’s vast expanse, trip over a discouraging word, poll, or prediction. Generally, they needn’t look farther than the Drudge Report, which shamelessly selects information—and disinformation—in order to stereotype Barack Obama and denigrate his prospects.
With genuine anguish, one Democrat said to me Sunday, “Did you see Drudge has Obama only 2.7 percent ahead?”
It wasn’t actually Drudge, but a poll by Zogby, which Drudge had cherry picked for its pessimism. (Unlike Drudge, Zogby isn’t biased; he famously elected Kerry in 2004.) Rasmussen’s poll used to be Drudge’s favorite, but on Sunday it showed Obama leading by six, so Drudge swept it under the rug.
Perhaps for Democrats, the dark night of doubt is inevitable before victory dawns. But a study of the election state by state reveals McCain has a virtually impossible tight rope walk to victory while Obama has five or six different avenues to win—some of which are veritable boulevards. Not a single one of the states won by John Kerry in 2004 is even close. In addition, Obama leads, in the Real Clear Politics average of the latest polls, in nine states won by George W. Bush in 2004, including Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado and Nevada. Even in Missouri Obama has a small advantage, and he’s only slightly behind in three other Bush states. As former Reagan and Huckabee campaign manager Ed Rollins puts it, McCain has to “draw an inside straight” to win this game.
Yet McCain’s character war against Obama has undermined what smart Republicans like Rollins and Mike Murphy, the candidate’s 2000 strategist, regard as his only chance for victory—to paint Obama as a tax-raising liberal. In the strategy-free zone that is McCain headquarters, they can’t even find the right symbol for the Republicans’ most reliable standby: the tax attack. Joe the Plumber, yesterday’s gimmick, isn’t a plumber and he isn’t even named Joe. So McCain has cranked up charges of “socialism” against an opponent endorsed by Warren Buffet and Robert Rubin. Can’t somebody tell McCain he’s running in 2008, not 1918?
Beyond this threadbare scare on taxes, all that’s left to McCain is a Rovian appeal to the darkest impulses of the American people. McCain’s tactics, his running mate and his supporters have spread a venom that could poison American politics for years to come. Ayers, ACORN, Jeremiah Wright, the attempt to make Obama “the other”—for many on the right, this election all comes down to race. Drudge transparently sought to invoke that old black magic with his endorsement headline: “Powell for Obama And It’s Not About Race.” Rush Limbaugh joined in, characterizing the general’s backing as a race play. This is the face of Republicans, circa 2008, on the verge of defeat.
Understandably, Obama wants victory, not predictions of victory. I understand the caution, but I don’t foresee a sudden outbreak of complacency among his supporters. I believe they will turn out, in record numbers, and repudiate the call to another smear-scarred and color-tinged election. A new wave of younger voters and African Americans, motivated by the call to generational change, mobilized by Obama’s superior organization, is likely to offset whatever degree of racial resistance induces some of the elderly to vote against themselves. Democrats won’t need what Frum called the excuse of race. We’ll have a president instead.
It seems even Drudge has yielded, at least temporarily, to this reality. Zogby deserted him Monday and—what a difference a day makes—reported an Obama lead of six. So Drudge exiled Zogby and put up the Real Clear Politics average, a 5.5 percent margin. (At least he shaved half a point).
To paraphrase Kierkegaard, some Democrats may be suffering a perennial case of fear and trembling unto defeat. But that’s not how it will end this time. It will be the Palin revanchists (and McCain’s own minimally enthusiastic brigades) crying into their six packs on election night. Not even on Drudge will they find a consoling electoral count.