Obama Had Better Not Celebrate Before Actually Beating McCain

Don't be so quick to declare this thing done.

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Rob, my colleague here at Thomas Jefferson Street, has invited us to quarrel with his declaration that the presidential race is over.

So, here goes.

In the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, which showed Barack Obama with a 49 to 43 percent lead, voters were asked to choose between two statements.

Statement A: We need a president who will provide changes from the current Bush administration policies and create a government with more active oversight to protect consumers in areas such as housing and financial transactions.

Statement B: We need a president who will provide changes from the current policies in Congress and deal with waste and fraud in the system to protect taxpayers from government inefficiency and pork-barrel spending.

A big majority—58 percent—of those polled chose Statement B, the McCain-ish position. Only 38 percent chose Statement A, the Obama-like declaration.

As Democratic pollster Peter Hart put it in his latest analysis: "The reason this election is still ahead of us is that voter anger could turn into a stampede in any number of directions."

Yes, our economic turmoil has given Obama a nice surge. And conventional wisdom loves a straight-line projection.

But there is a point where angst morphs into fear, and a tough guy looks appealing. Then, things change. All the more so when wild cards like race and religion are involved.

As Hart notes, "40 percent of all white voters, 40 percent of swing voters, and nearly 20 percent of white Obama voters say it bothers them that 'Barack Obama has been supported by African-American leaders such as the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Al Sharpton.' "

Obama and his team better learn from the example of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who got so excited about catching a touchdown pass against the Cowboys last month that he flipped the ball in celebration before reaching the end zone.

All McCain really needs is the precise formulation of a simple question to put in peoples' heads as they walk into the polling booth: Do you really want to put a crumbling economy and disintegrating foreign policy in the hands of a strange and unknown rookie?

McCain has not gotten there yet, but is it so crazy to imagine that he will?

If so, the Electoral College looks much more promising to the Republicans.

The state polls, right now, have the map trending blue. But mostly, in the battlegrounds, Obama's leads are within the margins of error. Given the results of the last four presidential elections, is it really such a stretch to suspect that a fast-closing McCain will end up capturing Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina?

And, given Obama's unproven ability to get votes in the Appalachians, would we really be stunned if he lost Pennsylvania?

McCain's biggest problem is still the double-headed chore he confronts. He has to employ nasty and divisive tactics to get the Republican Party's conservative base fired up and to the polls, while at the same time looking like a unifying leader—a president—who can steer us through the very troubled days ahead.

Obama, on the other hand, has but a single task—to be presidential. His base is energized, and he and his campaign have performed so superbly that I don't doubt that they will continue to impress for another four weeks. The fundamentals of public opinion—presidential approval rating, right-track/wrong-track numbers, partisan alignment—are all still in the Democrats' favor. I believe that the Democratic ground game will more than match the Republicans on Election Day.

So, right now, the 2008 election looks like a Big One—a Hope election like 1932 or 1980, with Obama playing the role of Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan.

But the Democrats still need to worry that this year will end like 1948, in uncertainty and fear, with McCain playing Harry Truman.