McCain’s Slim Hopes Ride on Obama’s ‘Poor Closer’ Record

Posted October 22, 2008 at 5:10pm

Is it “over”? Well, all the indicators — from polls to money to troops on the ground — suggest an Obama victory. But it’s not quite “over” yet.

[IMGCAP(1)]Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) slim hopes for an upset rest primarily on the fact that in several crucial battleground states, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) still has not broken through the 50 percent barrier, or has barely done so.

In Florida, the RealClearPolitics poll average gives Obama a 2-point lead, 48.6 percent to 46.6 percent. In Ohio, Obama leads 48.3 to 45.5.

The same situation prevails in Nevada, where Obama has 48 percent; North Carolina, 48.3; Missouri, 48; West Virginia, 43.7; and Indiana, 45.

Obama has broken through the 50 percent threshold in Colorado (50.4 percent), Minnesota (51.4), Washington (52) and Michigan (51.3), but is still within the margin of error.

McCain is making a special effort to capture Pennsylvania, where RCP shows him 11 points behind and eight of the past 10 polls have given Obama a double-digit lead. But still, the polls give Obama an average of only 51.7 percent of the vote.

Obama’s failure to top 50 — especially given President Bush’s rock-bottom approval ratings, 90 percent public dissatisfaction with the status quo and a terrible economy — suggests that he still has not completely “made the sale.”

Moreover, his record in the primary campaign against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) suggests that he is a poor “closer.” It’s no wonder he and Clinton were encouraging early voting in Florida on Monday.

Obama currently leads — but is either just under or just over 50 percent — in eight states carried once or twice by Bush and hence are capable of turning red once more.

As McCain supporters point out, history does contain a number of cases when the underdog came from behind in the final days and won, or almost did: Harry Truman in 1948, Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Gerald Ford in 1976 and Al Gore in 2000.

To pull out a victory this year, the McCain campaign is throwing not only the kitchen sink at Obama, but the toilet, too — including ridiculous charges of “socialism” (from McCain himself), “Castro-style communism” (from Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez) and “palling around with terrorists” (from VP nominee Sarah Palin).

Palin, for all her value in energizing the GOP base, has not won women over to McCain’s side. Last week’s Pew poll showed that Obama leads among white women 47 percent to 43 percent, whereas President Bush carried them in 2004 by 55 percent to 44 percent.

And a Fox News poll earlier this month showed that by 40 percent to 32 percent, voters said they were less likely to vote for McCain because of Palin, while by 34 percent to 23 percent, Obama’s choice of gaffe-prone Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) made them more inclined to vote for him.

The “socialism” charge is based on Obama’s statement to Ohio plumber Joe Wurzelbacher that he wanted to “spread the wealth around” — as if there has ever been any doubt that Obama’s tax policies were redistributionist, raising taxes for those over $250,000 and cutting them for everyone else.

It’s McCain who made “Joe the Plumber” famous in the final presidential debate — so it’s entirely legitimate to question whether Wurzelbacher truly is the “everyman” that McCain makes him out to be.

In fact, Wurzelbacher is a conservative ideologue who said in a press conference that he regards the graduated income tax as “socialism.” And, it turns out, as someone who makes less than $100,000 a year, he would benefit more from Obama’s tax program than McCain’s — even if he succeeded in buying the small plumbing company he works for.

McCain has a fair argument to make that small businesses with profits of $250,000 or more would have their taxes raised under Obama’s plan — and it is those businesses, employing 10 or more workers, that have created all of the new jobs in America this year.

And it’s also a good argument that Obama has not repeated statements he made in June on ABC’s “This Week” and on CNBC that he might defer tax hikes in the midst of a recession. McCain is right to charge that tax hikes will deepen the downturn.

Whatever McCain says about the economy, it does not seem to be convincing voters. The Washington Post/ABC poll showed on Tuesday that, by 55 percent to 36 percent, they think that Obama understands their economic problems better than McCain does.

And, 51 percent to 43 percent, they say that Obama is the stronger leader — agreeing with Gen. Colin Powell that, contrary to McCain’s claims, Obama is qualified to be president.

Perhaps McCain’s best remaining argument is that electing Obama president with an expanding Democratic majority in Congress will lead to excessively liberal policies.

Congress is even more unpopular than President Bush, and McCain would do well to run hard in the final days against the triumvirate of Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

But he has to be vivid about it — pointing out explicitly that all-Democratic rule will deliver the country into the hands of trade unions, trial lawyers, taxers and spenders. It’s a fact, for instance, that Democrats wanted to put union representatives onto the boards of banks in their version of the $700 billion rescue package, but Republicans stopped it.

It’s entirely likely that Democrats will try to bail out other industries besides banking — autos, for instance — and to politicize the investment decisions companies make. That is edging toward “socialism.”

Will any of this work? It’s a heavy lift. Right now, Obama has a solid lead with 259 electoral votes, just 11 short of victory, according to RealClearPolitics, to McCain’s 137.

To close the gap, McCain has to capture all eight current tossup states, totaling 92 electoral votes, the three leaning toward McCain (Montana, Georgia and West Virginia), with 23 votes, and carry Virginia, with 13, and either Colorado, with nine, or New Mexico, with five, currently “leaning” toward Obama.

Or, he needs to steal a big state such as Michigan or Pennsylvania, currently regarded as solidly for Obama.

To do it, McCain needs more than good arguments. He needs a miracle.