Monday, October 27, 2008

Two Minute Drill

With 7 days left in the campaign McCain-Palin is behind by 7 points. Pundits are obsessively dissecting the red states in which the GOP is trailing and needs to catch up in order to win: Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and New Hampshire, and wondering what secret message from above has led the GOP to continue to try to steal blue Pennsylvania, despite trailing by as much as 10 points there in the polls. But there's no need to be fixated on these states. What McCain needs is a 7 or 8 point national swing; accomplish that and the swing states will follow.

Everyone with the GOP's interests at heart seems to agree that the whole McCain effort, in advertising and public appearances, must concentrate on one or two themes and no more. But there's total disagreement on what those themes should be. This late in the game you have to toss a lot of plays, plays that would be good in different situations, out of the playbook. Let's take a look at the themes that could have been fruitful that McCain has to now discard.

1. William Ayers, Unrepentant Terrorist

Contributors on places like NR Online have been screaming from the stands for McCain to hit harder Obama's associations with William Ayers, unrepentant terrorist now occupied with trying to turn the public schools into teachers of socialist revolution. Obama's judgment in allowing Ayers to host a meeting for his campaign is indeed open to question. But McCain has already hit this in the debates, to the displeasure of the wired-up "independents" in the network focus groups.

2. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Race Baiter and America Hater

Out of an excess of delicacy McCain declared Obama's inspiration, mentor and long-time pastor out of bounds. It's too late to reverse course now; it would be slammed as a desperate act of race-baiting. Personally what I found most appalling about the Obamas' participation in this congregation is his bringing his 6 and 9 year daughters to this school of America hatred and race animosity. I'm hoping that they were safely ensconced in Sunday School during the Rev. Wright's rants.

3. Joe the Plumber
The McCain people felt they had a winning issue with Joe the Plumber. Instead what they have done is expose the weakness of a tactic the Republicans have successfully employed for 30 years: Working and middle class voters accepted lower tax rates on the rich following a principle of fairness, that everybody should get the same percentage tax reduction. Joe the Plumber brought to public attention a conflicting principle of fairness: working and middle class voters do not really oppose the idea of making people who earn more than $250K paying higher percentage tax rates, when the issue is framed that way. As John Dickerson has noted McCain was 4 points ahead of Obama a month ago on being "better on taxes"; now he's 14 points behind. Invocation of Joe the Plumber has backfired.

4. Experience and Maturity
Everyone knows that McCain is old as dirt and has been in politics forever. Those who are impressed by this are already on side. Obama, like Ronald Reagan, passed the looks-like-a-president test in the debates and can't be taken down on this issue now.

5. Terrorism and Iraq
After Obama's bellicose interest in invading Pakistan was expressed in the debates, the traditional GOP edge on this issue has slipped to 6 points. But this isn't a bad issue; it's just not a major concern of the public right now.

There's two plays McCain and Palin need to use to go for the upset next Tuesday:


The polls do show an opening here. People do not like the idea of the absolute rule of President Obama and two Democratic houses of congress. An advantage of this tactic is that it can be accomplished without seeming to go negative on Obama personally, something that's hurt McCain severely already. The GOP needs to push in the viewing audience's faces every wild and wacky pet idea of every left winger likely to wield power in the next Congress. There's a genuine moral duty to be performed here: the electorate needs to know that an Obama presidency with a Democratic House and filibuster-proof Senate could change America in a way they may not be expecting, may not like and which may be impossible to reverse.

BTW he adjective to use on the Democrats is not "socialist", which is not quite believable and sounds desperate, nor "liberal" which no longer packs enough of a punch. The word to use is "radical", which is scary enough for the present purposes and has the advantage of being incontrovertibly true.

Oh and every GOP Senate candidate in trouble should be using this argument too, as Elizabeth Dole is doing in North Carolina and Norm Coleman is doing in Minnesota.


The economy is the most important issue for over half the population, and those who have a preference prefer Obama over McCain by 64% to 36%. John McCain cannot win the election without turning these numbers around.

This is the tricky one, since McCain has no particular expertise on the economy and tends to do confidence-sapping things like ad libbing major economic policies in the midst of a debate. Maybe the themes of experience and proven courage can be worked in here. Maybe he wants to be more specific about what regulation of financial institutions he will recommend to the new Congress. Maybe you want to throw the Hail Mary and warn that incompetent management of the economy in 1929 turned a stock market crash into The Great Depression, and that raised taxes and imposition of tariffs are two of the mistakes that contributed to it. I see on Fox News that McCain has rolled out his economic team today. Maybe that will lead to something.


Those are the plays. Go to the shotgun, call three plays at a time in the huddle, run out of bounds before being tackled, and John McCain might well cash in on his current 10% chance of winning the election.

But if McCain keeps repeating his same old themes then, as an old pal of Sen. Obama's might say, you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ontario and Final Total Prediction

Ontario's volatility was illustrated neatly last week when Strategic Counsel produced an Ontario-only poll for the Globe and Mail and CTV showing the Tories 5 points ahead of the Grits. Wonderful! The next day they published their daily tracking poll; it showed the Grits ahead of the Tories by 6 points. The first poll had a much larger sample and was the more serious one, but it does illustrate what a roller coaster ride this has been. A column I read somewhere today recounted a day when one tracker had the Liberals ahead by 12 while another had the Conservatives ahead by 5.

One thing which must haunt the Tories (it sure haunts me) is that in the last 2 elections the latest polls overstated Conservative Ontario support by a considerable margin. My hypothesis is that this was due to the Tories being perceived as a risk, an alien party, a Western party, something they didn't feel comfortable with. People who were mad at the Liberals decided that they weren't mad enough to take this chance. If I am right the Ontario underperformance effect should not exist in this election. Love them or hate them, the Tories are now a known quantity; buyers know the product they will be getting. (Hence the Liberals' efforts to persuade people that the Tories have a "hidden agenda', a nightmare of depravity to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public as soon as they won a majority.)

The economic meltdown caused a drop in Tory support that probably put the Liberals ahead by 7 a week or so ago. There is no doubt they have recovered, the question is how much. There seems to be something of a late consensus; the Conservatives leading by 2. That is a 7 point swing from last time, and should produce a larger Tory seat margin than one would ordinarily expect because of the large number of wasted votes the Liberals amass piling up huge margins in metro Toronto. So I will go ahead and take the chance of overpredicting Ontario support for the third successive election. The distance between L and NDP support has dropped dramatically, allowing some Dipper pickups as well. The large-sample Strategic Counsel poll showed the NDP with a big lead over the Liberals in northern Ontario. If the tales of northern NDP gains are true, the Grits could be in for an unpleasant shock in Ontario.


L GAIN FROM C (1) MISSISSAUGA-STREETSVILLE (where Wajid Khan switched parties)



That all adds up to this;

%: C 36, L 34, NDP 22, G 9

SEATS: C 48, L 38, NDP 20
Adding up it comes to this:


% C 35, L 28, NDP 20, BQ 10, G 7

SEATS: C 133, L 82, BQ 51, NDP 40, IND 2

Let's hope I turn out to be a pessimist. By, say, 22 seats.

In The Boonies: Predictions for Everywhere Else but Ontario




ST. BONIFACE (C Gain from L) (EPP says L) Hard to imagine this riding with its solid French component leaving the Grits; but the regional C trend (+6 against the Ls), a strong C campaign, and Winnipeg Free Press polls suggest a swing here in a close race.

WINNIPEG SOUTH CENTRE (L Hold) Weak NDP campaign saves incumbent Grit minister.


NO CHANGE (Small pro-NDP trend not enough to unseat Tories in Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River or Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar)

I will not go seat-by-seat here, saving it for my sister French publication, whose name and URL I don't recall at the moment.
Before looking at the polls I had been terrified by reports of total collapse in the C vote in Quebec and a Bloc sweep of Biblical proportions. A look at the final polls from 6 sources tell a different story. You know where the Bloc are compared to their % total in 2006? Down a point. The Tories are down 4 points, that's true. (The Grits are even, with the 5 points lost by the BQ and Cs going to the NDP and G). Unless there is some strange distribution of votes where the Conservatives are increasing their vote disproportionately in ridings where they have no hope, the ominous warnings of people like Chantal Hebert that the Tories had only 2 safe seats in the province can be ignored.) I think they can be ignored, although the tendency of Quebec late trends to magnify on voting day can't be ignored.
% BQ 42 L 21 C 21 NDP 11 G 5

Seats: BQ 51 L 14 C 8 NDP 1 IND 1

ST. JOHN'S SOUTH-MOUNT PEARL (L GAIN from C) Imagine that: the Grits taking a riding away from the Tories today. I guess every dog has his day.
AVALON (C Hold) Fabian manning barely holds off clean sweep for Williams' ABC campaign.

New Brunswick

NO CHANGE (Either regional trends, incumbency/repeat candidates or other factors seem to be tending to the support of every incumbent party under challenge here. FREDERICTON going C would be a pleasant surprise.)
Nova Scotia

SOUTH SHORE-ST. MARGARET'S (NDP GAIN from C) (Atlantic polls are difficult to interpret because of small samples, but the NDP should pick up another seat somewhere; I'll pick this one.)

Prince Edward Island

NO CHANGE (Only opportunity where incumbent L retiring)

NEXT: The province where all the volatility has been in the last week, Ontario.
And then we add it all up.

Fantastic Finishes? B.C. Predictions

With staggered voting times across the country we in Ontario no longer have to wait until midnight to find out what's going on in La-La-Land North. And the odds that B.C. will make a difference between the 3 possible results: C Minority (96%), C Majority (4%), and L Minority (well, closer to 0% than 1 % but still worth mentioning) are small. Nevertheless this now inaptly named province contains some of the most interesting 3-way races in the country, plus the most determinative resolution of how many Greens will opt for tactical voting to defeat the Tories as they realize they have no chance to win a seat.

The polling results here for the Conservatives have been fairly stable throughout the campaign. The Grits started out disastrously but seem to have been recovering in the last 2 weeks. That plus some good breaks have saved them from a situation seemingly possible not long ago in which they could have been wiped out entirely.

I'll note areas where the vastly overrated Election Prediction project disagrees.... Let us cut to the chase:


C 40 NDP 26 L 23 G 11

C 22 NDP 9 L 5


ESQUIMALT-JUAN DE FUCA: C GAIN from L (EPP says L: Keith Martin to prove not as popular as he thinks; will be close)

NEWTON-NORTH DELTA:: C GAIN from L (EPP says L; with Cs appealing to the ethnic vote, no reason they should be able to resist the swing here.)

RICHMOND: C GAIN from L: (outside Vancouver and Victoria, Ls should lose the close ones)

SURREY NORTH: C GAIN FROM NDP: (Dona Cadman C candidate here)

VANCOUVER KINGSWAY: L GAIN from C: (Not a real C loss as this was David Emerson's riding; could be close L/NDP battle, late L resurgence should win it)

VANCOUVER ISLAND NORTH: C Gain from NDP: (Easy; provincial swing restores former incumbent);


NORTH VANCOUVER: L HOLD; (EPP says C gain from L) (For the uninitiated, not the same as VANCOUVER ISLAND NORTH. (Could go C, but late L resurgence in greater Vancouver saves popular incumbent.)

SAANICH AND THE GULF ISLANDS: C HOLD (EPP says L gain from C) (The most interesting riding in the whole country. The NDP had to withdraw after exposing his platform before a bunch of teenagers — but he's still on the ballot; how many people will vote for him. The Liberal, Briony Penn is a former Green supporter who did a well known Lady Godiva routine in Vancouver a few years ago to protest some kind of cutting of forests. The Green candidate, Andrew Lewis, ran last time and got 10% of the vote, and the Greens there are reportedly bitter at Penn's defection to the Liberals. A strong campaign has been waged urging voters to vote tactically and support Penn, one effective enough to cause both the C and G candidates to lodge complaints with whoever will listen.

The key here is the assumption by some that all NDP voters realizing their candidate is out will vote L or G. That is not true anywhere, and especially in British Columbia. A significant proportion of NDP supporters have Cs as their second choice. It only needs to be as high as 25% for the Cs to hold the seat. Considering the C strength in BC, incumbent Gary Lunn, who as far as I know has never felt compelled to strip publicly for purposes either good or evil, should be able to hold on — by a margin smaller than the number of voters who cast their votes for the withdrawn NDP.

NEXT: The Prairies

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Freak Show aka TownHall: McCain/Obama Pre-Game

Towmhalls are supposed to be McCain's forte; his forensic forum of advantage. The economy will dominate here, which is supposed to be McCain's weakness. He needs to neutralize that weakness to have any hope of winning the election. The Republicans have somehow managed to get themselves blamed both for the financial meltdown we're experiencing, as well as for the bailout needed to pull us out of it.

As John Dickerson pointed out in Slate, Town hall Forums can go very very wrong. It was in 1992 that Ponytail Guy showed up with his odd and disquieting question that annoyed Bush but which Clinton took as an opportunity to display his empathy, compassion, and love of clean politics. The voters able to ask questions at these town halls are scrupulously vetted as non-partisans -- meaning every partisan in Tennessee has been polishing their acting skills before applying to get in on Tuesday night.

This week the GOP has been trying to play up Sen. Barack Obama's ties to unrepentant terrorist William Ayers and black nationalist former pastor Jeremiah Wright. This isn't the night when McCain would really like to see these issues stressed. There's more important things to do Tuesday night. And it would be disadvantageous for McCain to be forced into repeating his desire to disavow Wright as an issue -- because national and state committees are very likely to be bringing it up in upcoming weeks.

Only a man with experience can pull us out of the mess we're in -- that's the message. Obama's not experienced enough to handle something we've never seen before. McCain's lead over Obama on the question "Who Is A Strong Leader?" has narrowed by 19 points in the last month. Specifics will be needed -- what is McCain going to do for the average guy who is hurting, with no sympathy whatsoever shown for the Bear Stearnses of the world. Specifics, specifics, and more specifics. Obama's making massive ad buys claiming McCain has no economic plan. (And just what is McCain's economic plan anyway?) That spending freeze McCain extemporized last time out needs to be returned to the mental recesses from which it sprang. It may be that the traditional GOP message of tax cuts and economic stimulation is no longer enough.

And no grumpiness. With some questionable cases to be considered, the best predictor of presidential elections since Nixon has been the candidates' likability.

As for Obama? Needs nothing more to be cool, attack Wall Street, and avoid making a disastrous gaffe. And avoid leaving the impression that he has wild spending plans that risk turning a bad situation into an irresolvable disaster.