Dem pollster predicts landslide, NY Times cautions

An interesting web to weave today between a Democratic pollster, who believes a landslide election is coming in November, and the New York Times which has a piece out today examining just how close the race really is and just how easily McCain could pull off a victory on November 4th.

First, report on the “earthquake” landslide prediction from Yahoo News:

Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said Friday that his party is in position for “an earthquake election” come Nov. 4.

“Nothing is going to look the same,” Greenberg said, joined by Democratic strategist James Carville at a breakfast with reporters hosted by The Christian Science Monitor.

Carville likened the Washington political environment to pre-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, saying that “there will be nothing left standing” after the election. He added that Republicans stand to lose “not just an election but a generation of voters.”

“McCain and Palin are losing the argument,” Greenberg said, pointing to favorable numbers for Obama on the campaign’s central issue, the economy.

“They are losing on their central arguments,” the pollster said of the Republican’s focus on tax cuts. “They can’t see that what they take for granted loses them independents.”

Greenberg said the GOP has not adjusted to a changed electorate and is running toward a base that no longer has the numbers it once had.

“Republicans want McCain to keep running to the right,” he said. “This is a new map.”

That’s a pretty dark prediction for McCain’s chances and the GOP in general, however, the Times see things a little differently:

MIAMI — Senator John McCain woke Thursday morning to what has become a fairly common greeting in these tough last weeks of his campaign. A raft of polls showing him well behind. Early post-mortems on his candidacy. Even Republicans speaking of him in the past tense.

But is it really over?

As Mr. McCain enters this closing stretch, his aides — as well as some outside Republicans and even a few Democrats — argue that he still has a viable path to victory.

“The McCain campaign is roughly in the position where Vice President Gore was running against President Bush one week before the election of 2000,” said Steve Schmidt, Mr. McCain’s chief strategist. “We have ground to make up, but we believe we can make it up.”

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll, released Thursday, showed Senator Barack Obama consolidating his lead over Mr. McCain among many groups of voters, underscoring the degree of difficulty facing the McCain team with just 11 days left in the campaign.

Even the most hearty of the McCain supporters acknowledge that it will not be easy, and there are a considerable number of Republicans who say, off the record, that the 2008 cake is baked. At this point in the campaign, Mr. McCain’s hopes of victory may rest on events over which he simply does not have control.

Still, there do seem to be enough question marks hovering over this race that it is not quite time for Mr. McCain to ride his bus back to Arizona.

There are a few things the Times cites as benefiting McCain:

States

Mr. McCain’s advisers said the key to victory was reeling back those Republican states where Mr. Obama has them on the run: Florida, where Mr. McCain spent Thursday; Indiana; Missouri; North Carolina; Ohio; and Virginia. If he can hang on to all those states as well as others that are reliably red, he would put into his column 260 of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win. Mr. McCain’s advisers said they would look for the additional electoral votes they need either by taking Pennsylvania from the Democrats, or putting together some combination of Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire and New Mexico.

Mr. McCain’s advisers are most concerned about Virginia, and understandably so. On the other side of the coin, Mr. McCain’s advisers believe that if he wins or comes close in Pennsylvania, he will probably win in Ohio and Florida. Aides to Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama agree that Mr. McCain remains very much in the game in Ohio and Florida. Not easy, but not impossible either.

This is what it really comes down to. If any of these swing states break for Obama, the party will soon come to an end for the McCain camp as it would be nearly impossible to win.

Issues

Two issues have turned up in the final days, courtesy of some inopportune remarks by Mr. Obama and his running mate, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware. Both have entered the campaign dialogue, and it is probably a little too early to tell whether they will have the impact that Mr. McCain hopes they will.

The first was Mr. Obama’s response to the plumber in Ohio who asked about his proposal to increase income tax rates on households making over $250,000 a year, in which Mr. Obama asserted that there was a need to “spread the wealth.” Mr. McCain seized on the response to reprise the he-will-raise-your-taxes attack that has historically had resonance in states like Florida, Iowa and New Hampshire. “We believe we have traction with the tax issue,” said Charlie Black, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain.

It was no coincidence that Mr. Obama spent about 10 minutes rebutting the notion that he would raise taxes on the middle class at a rally here in Florida on Tuesday. Advisers to Mr. Obama are carefully watching state polling and focus groups in Florida, Ohio and Virginia, where Mr. McCain is waging a vigorous push on this issue.

The other was Mr. Biden’s prediction that a foreign power would test Mr. Obama with a crisis in the first months of his presidency. That remark goes to what has been the heart of Mr. McCain’s argument about the need for the next president to have experience in handling high-stakes situations. No one in Mr. Obama’s campaign is disputing the potential damage from Mr. Biden’s remark, but they hope it will be offset by the endorsement of Mr. Obama by Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, on Sunday.

Biden’s statement, even if it’s correct, wasn’t a very bright comment to make. Had Palin made the same comment, she would unquestionably be ridiculed for it. Obama’s “spread the wealth” comment was destined for TV ad fodder and is the new catch phrase the McCain campaign has been employing around the country.

Polls

Pollsters say there has never been a year when polling has been so problematic, given the uncertainty of who is going to vote in what is shaping up as an electorate larger than ever. While most national polls give Mr. Obama a relatively comfortable lead, in many statewide polls, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain are much more closely matched. Even a small shift in the national number could deliver some of the closer states into the McCain camp, making an Electoral College victory at least possible.

“The next 13 days will tell the story,” said Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, pointing to recent polls showing Mr. McCain gaining in his state. “I’m optimistic. I think he’s going to take Florida.”

The other question is whether there is a hidden resistance among whites to casting a ballot for an African-American. That could potentially be a problem for Mr. Obama in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Mr. Obama’s advisers argued that race had already been factored into polls; but it was notable that the Times/CBS News poll found that one-third of voters said they knew someone who would not vote for Mr. Obama because he is black. That is a question formulation pollsters use to try to get at prejudice that a voter might not otherwise own up to.

I think the polls are completely unpredictable. I can’t explain the discrepancy between a 1 point lead and a 14 point lead other than to examine the sample size, which often tells the story. Some pollsters are trying to factor in “new” voters while others are sticking with traditional methods. I’ll have more on the “new” voter aspect in another piece later today.

Turnout

Mr. Obama has made major strides in expanding the voter pool, especially among young people and African-Americans; the question is whether first-time voters, especially younger ones, will actually turn out. Consider this: An ABC News/Washington Post poll on Thursday found that first-time voters support Mr. Obama by 73 percent to 26 percent.

Mr. McCain’s campaign looks to history for evidence of how big a step it is for new voters to go from registering, which can take place at a doorstep, to actually voting. Still, by every indication here in Florida — where there were two-hour lines in the southern part of the state as early voting began this week — the Obama campaign may be delivering on the formidable get-out-the-voter operation it has promised.

Which is not to say they are not a bit worried.

“Complacency is a big concern of ours, and that’s why we’re going to campaign energetically from start to finish here,” David Axelrod, the chief strategist to Mr. Obama said in an interview. “We don’t want anybody to think that this thing is done — it’s not done. One of the things that can undo us is if people believe that.”

The issue with hedging the election on the “youth” turnout is that, as seen in 2004, they don’t always turnout to actually cast a vote. Whether this is true in 2008, we have yet to see.

So the Times has set forth several issues which are still unknowns in the next few days before the election. Historically McCain has a tough road, though it isn’t impossible.

On the other hand, Obama is in a very good position as long as he stays on the offense and keeps his supporters energized.

Sound off below.. are we going to see a landslide or are their still too many variables?