Democratic strategist Peter Feld, who recently warned Gawker readers not to underestimate Sarah Palin's visceral appeal, checks in occasionally to rain on your parade. Today he warns against declaring the McCain capaign dead in the water.
So the bailout plan was cock-blocked by the very same House Republicans who John McCain had promised to bring on board in last week's trumped-up "campaign suspension." A cool trillion of investor dollars was wiped out in under half a day. Elsewhere, the now-mortified conservative base has been frantically bailing on Palin. Swing voters — though not some instinctively despondent Obama diehards — declared Obama the debate winner. And Barack Obama hit the magic 50 mark in the two leading tracking polls, Rasmussen and Gallup. So, time for doubters to stop whining about Obama's supposedly cold, passive strategy that's keeping him from "sealing the deal." Right? Maybe. It's certainly looking much better. Jay Cost at RealClearPolitics explains this nicely with charts and statistics, but basically, Obama's support has risen slightly through the two-week financial crisis, after holding steady for months, while McCain's numbers have been bouncing around like bedbugs since June and are now at low ebb. However, his support's gone mostly to undecided, not to Obama. With Barack at just around 50, there is still — barely — room for McCain to bounce back. But wait - wasn't Obama behind? And now he's up by 8? Yes — in some polls, though the RCP average has him up now by 5 points, 48%-43%. But to read these polls better than the press usually does, ignore the margin. The key is to watch the separate Obama and McCain numbers individually. First, Obama. Since locking up the nomination, his numbers have held to a narrow trading range — rarely below 45% or above 48%. He's occasionally flirted with 50%, but until this weekend, never in two trusted polls for several days running. McCain's trading range has generally been a little lower, but more importantly, twice as wide. His volatility is a result of his shaky base — Republicans who don't like him, whether because he's not conservative enough or they think he's too erratic, too old, or whatever. When he rallies them, he's guaranteed about 46%. At his peak, McCain scored 48% after picking Sarah Palin (which then briefly put him ahead of Obama, who was drawing 46% or 47%). But numerous times, he has dipped into the low 40s or even below — down to 36% in several polls last June. My own instinct is that the verdict on McCain's past week is mixed, and that after a debate performance some saw as winning, politically tuned-out swing voters don't yet see him in the same harsh light as, say, Letterman fans. If so, McCain can get himself back to 46% with little trouble and stay alive, as long as Obama is under 50% and there are still enough undecided voters to make up the gap. A solid debate performance, perhaps, or some new stunt like pretending to "rescue" the bailout with provisions that "protect the taxpayers" the House GOP can support (on Thursday night, ideally, to distract from his veeptard's debate performance) — would let McCain bring back his wavering supporters more easily than some Obama supporters realize. Some may reasonably think McCain has already permanently branded himself as a desperate, washed-up gambler holding his campaign together with flypaper and selfishly disrupting delicate negotiations at the exact moment when Americans are begging for a rational grown-up who'll take charge. If that's so, look for Obama's numbers to tip above 50 and stay there — which will mean that McCain has run out of road. Until that happens, I'd keep the irrational exuberance in check. For the time being, I would mentally spot McCain 46% in any poll. Assume that the remaining undecideds could break two to one in his favor (yes, racism's a factor), do the math, and see if that still leaves Obama ahead. Right now, it looks like that's the case.