Update on the Political Scene
The conventions are done, the tickets are set. Just 48 days left. So what's happened lately and what is still yet to come?

The conventions came and went. There were the standard bombastic speeches full of platitudes and promises and pats on the back. All of the important people got their time to shine. There were protests and marches both in Denver with the Democrats and in St. Paul with the Republicans. All of those unimportant people got pepper sprayed on their way back to campus and/or their job at Starbucks. And the elaborate set designs for the speeches have been packed up. From here on out it is up to each ticket to reach out and win voters. And there is no real homefield advantages left for either candidate to make his or her case to the nation.

That's not to say that there weren't plenty of interesting things that took place over those two weeks. Lets start in Denver. A critically-ill Senator Edward Kennedy made a very emotional appearance to give what will ultimately amount to his last big speech. If that doesn't bolster Democrat resolve to win the election than nothing will. The Clinton appeasement effort was then clearly on display with the amount of time and attention paid to Hillary and Bill. Obama has made a big effort to pay more homage to Bill's economic record during his presidency in order not to further offend Hillary supporters. Hillary supporters are still super-pissed that she wasn't even considered for VP. It was also clear that the Clinton's feel they have a perception problem amongst black voters (Bill made sure he was always on camera with the son of the late black Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Johnson for example). These are the sort of things that are meant to lay the groundwork for another Hillary effort for the nomination - be it 2012 or 2016.

The actual Dem. VP nominee Joe Biden made his keynote speech. Most people, yours truly included, were not impressed by the effort from a guy that is so highly thought of as a speaker. It just didn't get the sort of pop that was expected. Barack gave his acceptance speech outdoors and in front of 80,000+ at Invesco Field. The entire theme of that speech and the convention as a whole was that McCain represented a continuation of George Bush's policies and that change is needed. He delivered his message of change and hope while mixing in some specific policy prescriptions which had been previously lacking from his speeches. This was a very good speech and it could only be discounted if you expected total perfection. Unfortunately for Obama I believe perfection was the standard many placed on this speech due to its huge buildup. After their presentation the Democrat ticket enjoyed approximately a 7% lead in the popular vote polls. This was much less of a bounce than they had anticipated. They went into the convention with about a 2% lead and most expected they would extend that lead to at least 10% - but it didn't happen.

That modest lead got erased very quickly when the Republicans got going with their convention. The convention itself was actually cut short by a day due to the Hurricanes in AL and LA. The Republicans had been very concerned about the perception that the Bush Administration did too little and too late the last time hurricanes ravaged the Gulf Coast. Even though this round of storms didn't end up comparing to the damage from Katrina, it was a good idea not to have a big party-like presentation at the Convention just in case.

After the delay the Republicans got into full swing. A pre-taped video speech from George Bush was the solution to the problem of having to pay homage to a sitting president while not further linking McCain to the un-popular Bush. There were then some pretty good speeches by the failed Republican candidates, especially by Rudy Guiliani. Guiliani systematically attacked Obama and he scored big by making the analogy of placing voters in the shoes of a job interviewer, evaluating the resumees of Obama and McCain and illustrating the gap in experience. The high point of the convention, and the big turning point in this campaign, was the nomination of little-known Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin to be McCain's running mate. She has really provided a shot in the arm to the McCain campaign. Her speech was amazing and she almost got too much pop - she constantly had to adjust her speech patterns due to longer than expected cheers. She scored on style and substance that night and even those analysts who are totally for Obama had to admit that she was a homerun pick. McCain closed up the Convention with his acceptance speech in a much more humble arena than Obama chose. He gave a workman like speech - he clearly doesn't have the star power of Obama or even Palin, but he did outline his experience edge and went into more detail to try to make people understand his resolve and character while being a POW. It was effective, if not overwhelming or even artistic.

After the Republican convention, the McCain/Palin ticket jumped out to a 4% lead in the polls. While the Democrats got a smaller than expected convention bump, the Republicans were thrilled with their results when it came to the polls. This was justified because McCain dominated Obama in the weeks leading up to the conventions and shortly thereafter. He very effectively used direct quotes and video from Hillary and Biden showing their previously held belief that Obama was not ready for the presidency. There was a new Republican ad every day of the Democrat convention. These were designed to make people look at Obama's new found allies with distrust about their actual feelings of him and his readiness to lead. And again Palin was a much more forceful and confident selection than was Biden. Biden was selected by Obama to try to minimize some of his flaws and retain Democrats. Palin was selected not only to add more conservative credentials to McCain, but to make a strong play for independent and moderate women, who represent a very large chunk of the electorate. It can reasonably be said that Biden doesn't attract any new voting category to Obama, whereas Palin adds several new options for McCain. There's even been a less than quiet movement from the Dems to dump Biden and get HIllary on the ticket after all. Had Obama picked Hillary in the first place then McCain couldn't have possibly chosen Palin. Those independent and moderate women would have been signed sealed and delivered to the Democrats with Hillary as the VP. Obama's reluctance to accept the calls for Hillary as VP may well prove to be his un-doing in this election.

But, as ESPN College Football Analyst Lee Corso would say "Not so fast my friend!" Over the last few days Obama has regained momentum. The general public seems more willing to blame the crisis with the stock market and the housing market on the Republicans rather than the Democrats. I could fill up an entire post with my thoughts on that alone, but the short version is that there is plenty of blame to go around. But Republicans are always seen as the "Wall Street" party to most people. And McCain said in a speech earlier this week that the underlying fundamentals of the market are strong. This runs contrary to what most people believe and Obama has been able to portray McCain as out of touch at best and incahoots with Bush's failed economic policies at worst.

There's also the matter of Palin's involvement with what's being called "Trooper Gate". If you haven't heard, the marriage between a State Trooper and Palin's sister fell apart and she had apparently exerted some influence to get him fired, which the Safety Commissioner had refused. She then decided that the best course of action was to fire the Safety Commissioner. It sounds kinda bad until you find out that the trooper was using a stun gun to "discipline" one of her sister's children. And he was also fond of drinking in his squad car while on duty. And the Safety Commissioner seems to be a real misogynist, not willing to take orders from a female superior, even if she was the Governor. I just can't see how anything that comes out of this will spell doom for Palin. Trying to sell the public that Palin is bad for going out of her way to protect her nephew from a taser gun doesn't really have much traction over time. There's also the story that broke today in which hackers figured out how to get into Palin's personal email. Its yet to be revealed if there's anything of substance to criticize her from the info gained in those emails. Its illegally obtained anyway. And all of these things paint Palin as more of a sympathetic victim than anything else and I think they will ultimately backfire on her attackers. But still, Obama is back to a 2-4% lead today.

Of course, all of this concern over the popular vote is ultimately meaningless. Sure it can give some clues to what the outcome may be, but the electoral vote is what counts. Most of the country had to reach back to grade school civics class to re-learn this truth back in 2000. Just a quick refresher explanation - each state is apportioned a number of electoral votes based on its population. This is also reflected in the state's Congressional representation and is adjusted every ten years after the latest Census. Whoever gets the most popular votes in that state gets ALL of the electoral votes from that state regardless of whether it was a close race or a landslide in that state. So in order to win the election, a candidate has to figure out a way to get to 270 electoral votes (one more than half of the 538 electoral votes available).

(In order to better understand the next part of this post, I suggest pulling up Yahoo or CNN's electoral vote maps in a seperate Window - it will really help make better sense of this whole thing if you can see the map and how it is playing out)

If I knew for sure who was going to make it to 270 electoral votes, I wouldn't be writing on this site. Somebody would be paying me a whole lot of money to do this. More accurately, some campaign would be paying me alot of money to get it done for them. But, I can explain the options available for each candidate. You have to go into this with the understanding that most of the electoral map is decided well in advance of any campaigning. Some big states like California, Illinois, New York will ALWAYS vote Democrat. Other big states like Texas and Florida ALWAYS go Republican. This is based on social demographics that always favor one particular party's platform. Swing states are the ones that really matter. Those are the states that have a population that can go either way depending on the year and on what each party's candidate is offering.

So which states are the swing states this year? The same ones that are usually swing states - Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa and Nevada. The first four on that list are absolute game changers due to their large # of electoral votes. If Obama can take either Ohio or Virginia away from McCain, he will win the election plain and simple. If McCain can take Pennsylvania or Michigan, he will win. As it stands today, Obama seems to be able to hold onto Michigan and McCain still looks okay in Ohio. So Virginia and Pennsylvania appear to be the real biggies this time. But time will tell if there's any real moving and shaking in these states. There's real problems with corruption at the state level with Republicans in those states. But, Obama really put his foot in his mouth with a big chunk of voters in those states with his now infamous "bitter Americans clinging to guns and religion" line. What is seen as being relatively worse will be shown by the results in those states.

If either man loses his biggest toss up state, he's going to have to hope to sweep the remaining swing states - Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa and Nevada and their smaller # of electoral votes. Here's where higher level gamesmanship comes into play. A candidate may have to do something "extra" to get his voters to turn out in mass. When you are talking about hundreds of millions of voters nationwide, you can easily imagine that there's all sorts of things that can prevent someone from going to the polls. And emotional plays always work better to influence human behavior than the appeals to rationality (look it up - its true). You have to strike a nerve with certain demographics to make sure they show up even. They have to show up even if they're sick, even if they have other obligations. You have to get them to feel that they NEED come to the polls.

Karl Rove's efforts are a great example of going the extra mile in this regard and it helped lead to Bush's re-election in 2004. In a move of pure political genius, Rove got those swing states to put Gay Marriage Amendment issues on the ballot. This got every single social conservative out to the polls to vote AGAINST and in turn to pickup the Republican ballot. This most likely put Bush over the top in several key states. I think it may take clever positioning one way or the other to squeak out the edge in one or more of these key states again this year. Maybe its abortion issues in one state, maybe its corporate regulation or taxation in another. Maybe its affirmative action or housing issues. It doesn't even matter if the issue on the ballot will ultimately be ruled a federal matter and out of the jurisdiction of the state government. It doesn't even matter in terms of the turnout if a higher court over-rules the initiative later, if you get your people out there to vote on that issue it will show up in the Presidential results. There's a wide open menu to choose from. Whichever campaign manager can manufacture extra turnout where it really, really counts via these ballot initiatives may ultimately go down as the next political genius. Whichever campaign manager has more creativity and resolve in these matters will really put his candidate in the driver's seat. Mark my words, this will matter and matter BIG TIME.


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Update on the Political Scene
Authored by: togasteve on Thursday, September 18 2008 @ 08:25 PM EDT
Very good point. The Bradley Effect is definitely something I was going to include in a post a little closer to the election and/or shortly thereafter (way to step on my toes DIRT!). Anyway, there is a debate over whether or not it still exists and if so how big it really is. I believe it exists to some minor extent and there are several documented examples - just check out Wikipedia for more.

But the Bradley election controversy was way back in 1982. Polling has improved immensely since then and these sort of things are taken into account much better than before. And with these inexact sciences, its impossible to tell for sure if race is the factor in over-reporting or if its something else. But since we have never had a black candidate on a national ticket, we are definitely in uncharted waters in this regard. I also think the effect will probably be diluted over the large # of diverse precincts involved nationwide. When you're dealing with smaller elections such as Congressional or Governors, you have a smaller turnout of voters. Those voters are more likely to have some personal tie in with the pollsters and volunteers on site due to being more politically involved than most people who only bother to vote every 4 years for president. There's more pressure to "say the right thing" in those situations, regardless of how you would actually intend to vote. And with dealing with smaller turnout elections, each indvidual that falls into this Effect will have a higher percentage impact than in an election with a higher turnout. Also, in a national election, you have to take into consideration the "one issue" voters I mentioned at the end of the post in regards to referendums on specific issues. Those people have next to no pressure to hide their real feelings.

The Democrats seem to want to avoid talking about this effect so as not to make people think that its common and acceptable to say one thing and vote the other way. There's less tabboo involved if the individual can say to himself "Hey, everyone else does it - so its ok for me to do so". When they do mention this, its in the terms of setting up their excuse if they lose. Its kinda like they already have the talking points ready to go - "we would have won if America wasn't full of racist liars". And Republicans are comforting themselves by thinking that this is going to be their ace in the hole. No matter what the polls say going into the election, there's an air of confidence that this effect will take away any perceived lead Obama may have. I even heard Rush say a few weeks ago that he thinks that Obama would have to have a 10 pt lead in the national polls to actually win. I personally feel that this was just a ploy to score points with his listeners and the Bradly Effect will have much less of an impact than that. I base this on absolutely nothing more than a gut feeling since again we are in uncharted waters since this is for the Presidency.
Update on the Political Scene
Authored by: DiRT on Saturday, September 20 2008 @ 08:56 AM EDT
Aw shucks. I thought I had gotten one up on you. I still think it's a factor in the polling right now, especially since the undecided voters keep swinging back and forth. With the market making an incredible rally to end the week, no one has a major lead so there's a lot more in flux right now than most people expected.

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