Trail Mix

Trail Mix

In another, more progressive nation or perhaps even a different period in this nation’s history, the presidential campaign of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama might be feeling not just optimistic but pretty darned certain of a win on Nov. 4. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this week shows him leading Republican opponent Sen. John McCain on the most important issues of the day. On improving the economy, 49% to 28% say Obama’s strongest, on taxes he leads by 48% to 34%, and on housing he’s ahead by 45% to 24%. Obama also holds double-digit leads in many critical states, while not a single national poll shows McCain ahead. How could he not win?

University of Michigan political scientist Vincent Hutchings warns of over-optimism based in part on lessons learned during the Democratic primaries. Recalling the ebullient crowds at campaign events in states like Massachusetts and California, where important local and national figures threw their weighty support behind Obama who then lost to Sen. Hillary Clinton, he says, “It’s not impossible that we’re misjudging the true level of support out there for Obama and McCain could pull it out kind of like Harry Truman did in 1948.”

The McCain campaign continues its struggle to find a consistent, cohesive message and finds itself at a distinct monetary disadvantage, but experts are not yet ready to count him out.

“However much we might critique the McCain campaign for still trying to find a message, he himself is a formidable politician and has a way of staying in there when times get tough and coming from behind,” says Carnegie Mellon political scientist Kiron Skinner. “At the end of the day, 99% of winning a presidential election is the candidate-his energy, desire, and drive-and McCain has that. He has a remarkable record of resiliency and this his not his biggest test.” The bigger question for Skinner is why Obama, given the economy and how it’s played out to his campaign’s advantage, is not further ahead. The answer may lie somewhere between lingering concerns over Obama’s race and McCain’s demonstrated ability to repeatedly come back from the dead.

Still, the Republican has a lot of work to do in the next 11 days. Independent voters and seniors begun to line up behind Obama and McCain is spending most of his time and resources in base states. “I think to some degree the McCain people have decided their only hope is an enormous base turnout, so they’re concentrating on base areas in certain states and trying to drive them to the polls in large numbers, hoping that’s enough,” says Cato Institute senior fellow Michael Tanner. “I don’t think it will be but that’s probably their best shot at this point.”

According to findings by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, Obama is building support among groups that haven’t supported a Democrat in decades, giving him the lead in the three largest swing states, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. No candidate has won the election without taking at least two of the three