In the wake of Barack Obama’s triumphant European tour, the political press continues, by and large, to declare the election all but over. “Virtually all of the evidence that we have reviewed . . . point [sic] to a comfortable Obama/Democratic party victory in November,” write political analysts Alan Abramowitz, Thomas E. Mann, and Larry Sabato on Sabato’s Crystal Ball Web site. Michael Grunwald of Time agrees, asking, “Is McCain a no-shot?” Grunwald concludes that he probably is.
Obama may indeed end up the comfortable winner in November. But right now, there are a number of factors that still make John McCain at least even money — and by my current calculations, slightly better — to emerge victorious on Election Day.
It’s true that Obama has a powerful tail wind, thanks to the nation’s desire for change, and he is the most eloquent nominee since Ronald Reagan, with star power to boot. He also will be able to outspend the GOP decisively. And so far, McCain has failed to gain much traction against his Democratic rival.
But Obama’s head winds are just as strong. To win, he will literally have to rewrite history. Some of the hurdles he’ll have to overcome, as I’ve observed previously, include:
• No Democrat who hails from north of the Mason-Dixon line has been elected since 1960.
• No candidate in the modern primary era has ever been elected in November after failing to win more than one of the nation’s seven largest states in either its pre-convention primary or, if the state didn’t hold a primary, its caucuses.
• No candidate in modern times has ever been elected president with a voting record that could be identified as his party’s most liberal or conservative, yet in 2007 Obama was designated as the former (by the National Journal).
• No candidate arguably since Abraham Lincoln has been elected president with as little political experience as Obama.
None of this is to say that Obama can’t overcome these historical obstacles, and he has exceeded expectations before. But as any lawyer knows, try to defy too many precedents and the odds begin to run against you.
Moreover, McCain has some cards to play, even if he has not played them yet. The press seems to be under the assumption that, because it knows so much about McCain, the electorate does too. The hunch here is that, while the outlines may be familiar to voters, the details are not. Few voters are intimately familiar with the specifics of McCain’s war heroism; or the fact that he and his wife adopted a little girl from one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages, in Bangladesh; or the personal kindness he has displayed to colleagues like Democrat Morris Udall, who McCain visited regularly while Udall was dying. By November, they will.
In addition, for better or worse, the attacks against Obama haven’t really begun. There will be a raft of negative ads — and more, such as attacks from right-wing talk radio — likely featuring Obama’s own words, in his own voice (taken from the audio version of Obama’s book Dreams From My Father). We likely haven’t heard the last of Reverend Wright, nor the last attack on his wife, Michelle, either.