Home stretch analysis: Three weeks to go!

We’ve made to this point after two long, grueling years of covering this whole thing, we’ve made it to the last three weeks of the campaign. No more debates, just candidates stumping and sniping in the media. We’re at this point with two candidates I saw as unlikely, Barack Obama and John McCain. Nonetheless, they are the nominees and the vote happens November 4th.

In Wednesday night’s debate we clearly witnessed an energized McCain, much different than the previous two debates. He was on the offensive, he took Obama’s challenge to bring up Ayers and did so. Furthermore, he also posed numerous other questions concerning Obama’s associations and character. The only problem for McCain is that this last debate saw the ratings down sharply from the first two, which means even if McCain’s attacks were effective, fewer people saw them.

Obama was able to stick to his message in the debate and continue his points, however, he was forced to go off message and address some of McCain’s criticism, which is something we haven’t seen since Obama was debating Hillary Clinton during the primary. In my opinion, Obama wasn’t on his game as much as he was in the first two debates, where he seemed to fly right by McCain without issue. That being said, Obama still has the upper hand at this point, at least if you’re measuring by the polls.

I see Obama’s strategy, as already alluded to in this article, will be to continue linking McCain to President Bush’s policies, which Obama says have been a failure for 8 years.

McCain’s strategy, as we saw last night, will be try and position himself as the contrast to Obama’s “socialism,” as evidenced by McCain jumping on the “Joe the Plumber” bandwagon.

At my request, our other news/poster and commentary editor, Michael, gave me his thoughts via email since he is currently traveling:

After the third debate and the longest stretch of presidential campaigning in U.S history, the election is near at hand. The last debate on domestic affairs addressed some old points and new, and of course, introduced the newest member of the political circuit, Joe the Plumber.

McCain entered the debate facing a difficult situation. He was trailing in the polls, and had pressure from his constituents to be hard on Obama– while catching fire from the media about his campaign’s negativity. McCain had promised his constituents he would let Obama have it, while expressing interest to maintain a civil and respectful platform throughout the debate. This ambivalence was noticeable during the debate– as McCain’s attacks at times appeared as non sequiturs. Yet, during the debate McCain managed to pay homage to both sides of the spectrum, drawing out some attacks on Obama, such as the reference to Bill Ayers, and Obama’s taxation of the rich. Outside of the periodic attacks, McCain maintained a very calm and civil demeanor. While some of his constituents might have wished McCain to have been more aggressive (or less), McCain ended up doing what he had to without costing himself any political capital. His most successful attack came in characterizing Obama as a heavy taxer– and of promoting bigger government. I feel this last point has been largely under-used by the McCain campaign and has a lot of power behind it if used and promoted properly.

Obama needed to maintain his image and successful fend off the attacks. He was able to redress the Ayers controversy as well as other
issues such as attacks on his legislative history in the Illinois Senate fairly well. His level-headed responses and thorough reflections probably gained him points in the eyes of voters unfamiliar with him. Although Obama might have lost Joe the Plumber’s vote (and perhaps some small business owners’ votes) during the debate, Obama probably gained more ground with independents. On the flip side, he might have lost some Hillary supporters to McCain. While Obama managed to display a strong support for women’s issues, McCain was the candidate who succeed in invoking and aligning himself with Clinton’s initiatives and policies (such as addressing the housing crisis, or repeating her earlier argument about Obama’s health care policy). Obama’s strongest moments came when he compared McCain’s hacking of expenditures versus his scalpel remedy, and his succinct presentation of his health care policy. Throughout the debate Obama appeared knowledgeable and forthright, and this was a very important defensive element which should provide some shield from any ‘new to
the game’ or ‘inexperience’ attacks in future weeks.

It will take about a week for the polls to reflect the impact of this last debate. I suspect that Obama will pick up 1-3 more points in the
Real Clear Politics national poll average. McCain was able to give the talking points that his constituents wanted to hear (no big business,
no more spending, no higher taxes), but this was not going to win him over many new voters. If Obama does pick up these additional points
(pushing him within double digits over McCain) this will force McCain to dramatically increase the stakes.

Unlike previous election years, McCain as the Republican nominee, is not in a position to outspend his Democratic opponent in advertising, a fact McCain called attention to during the debate. While the Republican Party has promised to extend their funds to the
McCain campaign, this will not equalize the playing field, and probably cost the Republican more seats in Congress. McCain will need
to issue attack ads that are well crafted (and difficult to refute), in order to sustain their impact – that, or he will need to plan a Hail Mary sneak attack of negative ads 24-48 hours prior to election day in order to retain their effect. McCain is the type to shy away from unorthodox maneuvers, and one of these is in order within these next couple weeks.

Obama at this point needs to maintain his vigilance and continue explaining his policies and responding/successfully refuting McCain’s attacks. We will probably see and hear more of Palin as the days go by and there will be much more pressure on Hillary to provide shelter to
both either candidates. Hillary could provide a switch in national favor over night if she wanted, though I doubt she will provide this.

My outgoing prediction is that the race will continue to tighten over the next three weeks. Furthermore, I believe this race is more of a 4 to 5 point race with Obama in the lead, not a 10 to 14 point race according to a few polls. I believe it is tighter than many would think and it will continue to be that way for the next three weeks, which will be an eternity for these campaigns. I believe this race is anybody’s game at this point since, as I recall, Al Gore was up by 11 points during October yet Bush won the election. We shall see what happens come November 4th.

So there it is, if you’re not satisfied with our analysis, email for a full refund of your purchase price.