As we head into the home stretch, it is going to be important for those analyzing the election not to confuse McCain gaining a few points with him once again having the opportunity to win the election.
The Pollster.com national polling average this morning is 50 Obama, 43 McCain. Where will the movement be in these final three weeks? If the election ends up 4-6 points for Obama, this means we end up 52-48, 53-47, or something like that. My sense now is that McCain is likely to gain 4-5 points in this these final few weeks and return to a respectable level for a credible GOP candidate. Part of what may drive this movement in the next few weeks is McCain bouncing back up from his current below-the-floor position. I mean 43 percent for a major GOP candidate in a two-way race? No way we are going to end up there.
McCain's gains these coming weeks will be because he had been so dramatically underperforming since his successful convention. His erratic performance in the debates, his very public confusion during that first week of the financial crisis, the cratering of Sarah Palin, have all combined to leave him several points below where he should be at this point. In these next few weeks he will in all likelihood regain ground he should have been occupying all along but lost due to his disappointing campaign. So in many ways, McCain's likely uptick is more a sign of his current weakness than any newfound strength.
Getting back up to 46, 47, 48 is not the same as winning. My guess is there will be a lot of confusion about this in the chattering classes in the next few weeks.
Looking at the Kos am roundup, what we are seeing is a slight uptick in the McCain number with no decline in the Obama number. The real trend line to watch now is Obama's -- if he holds at 49,50,51 -- he will win. If he starts dropping below that, we may have a race on our hands.
I've always believed the main issue in the general election was whether Obama could give enough people enough comfort about him and his views to take the ground the American people were ready to give him. The debates, his strong performance during the financial crisis, a series of direct-to-camera ads have done a lot to give people more comfort about this new kid with a funny name whom we all have just gotten to know. My sense now is that the Obama campaign's positive TV tracks must stay relentlessly direct-to-camera, and they would be wise to replicate in some form the three direct-to-camera ads about our economic future and the struggle of everyday people run during the financial crisis (similar to the great two-minute close he made in Iowa) as the main way they close in the home stretch.
I have also always believed that Obama's final 2-3 points would come late, at the very end, as they often do for a challenger against a better known candidate. Which means we could see some kind of a McCain surge now with Obama closing it out in the final week or so -- if he performs well.
It is hard to believe we are at the end of this historic campaign. But we are, and like all campaigns, the final 18 days is at least one political lifetime left to go.
Crossposted at the NDN Blog.