Monday, October 13, 2008

Poll position

In case you hadn’t noticed, campaign polls are hardly in short supply; a dime a dozen would be a generous rate of exchange. But one in particular perks up the ears, revealing the way it does a perceptual breakthrough for Sen. Barack Obama.

Among the usual expressions of preference — conferring on Obama a 10-point lead among likely voters — the still-warm Washington Post-ABC News poll offers a snapshot that more or less removes the last slender rationale for a Republican victory in November.

Responding to the question of who they trust more to handle the unexpected major crisis, 48 percent said Obama would do better, compared to 45 percent who preferred Sen. John McCain to get the phone at 3 a.m. The margin of error is plusminus three percent.

The fact of that being a statistical dead heat is a problem for McCain, who used to own the national security issue. The fact of that giving Obama a numerical edge on McCain’s signature issue is an even bigger headache; it furthers the building narrative of McCain’s inadequacy for the presidency.

It also dashes the hope that dare not speak its name.

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The Republicans, you see, have been quietly hoping for the great Something — some deus ex machina, left-field event — to convey unto John McCain the advantage he and his Keystone Kops of a campaign organization haven’t earned organically on the campaign trail.

One of those scenarios already contemplated was the unforeseen catastrophe of a terrorist event. You remember: Charlie Black, a senior campaign adviser, tantalizingly said as much in late June, claiming in an interview with Fortune Magazine that a terrorist event would give McCain a “big advantage” over Obama.

The assumption was — is? — that such an event would send the electorate rushing for the exits away from the Obama campaign, back into the arms of the resolute cold warrior maverick dedicated to keep America safe.

That poll snapshot, plus another that gave Obama a five-point bulge over McCain on the spongy safe candidate/risky candidate question, pretty much puts that on ice. It even suggests that — banish the thought, seriously — if a major terroristic national crisis were to emerge right now, the Obama campaign would still probably prevail on Nov. 4.

And as for other national crises, consider the precautionary actions of each nominee. For his first pre-presidential decision, Barack Obama chose as a running mate Sen. Joe Biden, an old and principled hand on the levers of power in Washington. John McCain chose Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a toweringly unprepared, monstrously preposterous choice to accede to the presidency should McCain, a cancer survivor, fail to complete his first term.

Then look at how each has addressed the major national event we know about: the emerging daily crisis of the national economy. Obama has advanced, as recently as today, a series of nuanced, doable plans for restoring jobs, the economy and the national infrastructure through tax incentives to employers, changes in access to 401(k) funds and, over time, the repatriation of much of the $10 billion a month the United States now spends to prosecute the Iraq war.

McCain has lurched from talking point to talking point without a vision, a candidate offering nothing to the solution of the financial crisis beyond a grandstanding appearance on Capitol Hill that achieved nothing; a champion of the same deregulation thought by many to be responsible for the crisis in the first place; a man now reduced to tamping down the passions of his presumably most ardent supporters (any number of who almost certainly are on his side only because he was the last man standing after the primaries went down).

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The WashPost/ABC News poll also made another kind of news that may take longer to fully resonate: For maybe the first time in the history of canvassing for presidential preference, the American people decided that a man of African and American ancestry was trustworthy enough, was safe enough to achieve the leadership of the greatest participatory democracy in the world.

The latest Real Clear Politics poll results dovetail with this sentiment. In seven battleground states, Obama leads in every one, with margins from a three percentage points to more than 10. According to Real Clear Politics, Obama's overall average lead for the election is 7.4 points over McCain.

Those polls may be, as we’ve said, no more than a snapshot, subject to change tomorrow, if not tonight. But there’s no way to minimize their reading of the electorate, that EKG of the American pulse. Those snapshots may be the preview image of the national snapshot that takes place on November 4th.
Image credit: Obama: Bbsrock, republished under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. Obama and Biden: Daniel Schwen, republished under GNU Free Documentation License v. 1.2 or later.


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