Return of the Underdog
By Al Giordano
If my memory serves me, this is the first moment of the general election campaign in which the aggregate state-by-state "poll of polls" on RealClearPolitics shows McCain with an Electoral College lead:
But if you're Barack Obama, this map - coming up six Electoral College points short of the 270 needed for victory - is not a bad starting point at all from which to develop the game plan for the next eleven weeks. The Obama organization's ability to steal "red" states on that map is much, much greater than McCain's ability to take "blue" ones.
So let's play along and assume - even though it is premature to do so until both conventions have occurred - that this map is the starting point.
As everybody knows, turning Ohio or Florida would change the outcome. But the "fifty state strategy" has turned the corner on the 2000 and 2004 obsession over those two states. There are multiple other paths to change the game this time.
For example, if nothing on this map changes except for Virginia (paging Governor Kaine), Obama wins.
The same goes for Colorado, where a million or more phone calls will be made from a stadium next week. (Or let's pretend McCain wins Colorado but loses in mountain states Nevada and Montana: the Republican would still lose the election.)
The same goes for Kansas (paging Governor Sebelius).
Or what if African-American voter registration and turnout goes through the roof and suddenly Georgia (hello, Mr. Barr!), or North Carolina, and/or Mississippi break the mold?
I've said it before: Pollsters are going to have an unusually difficult time this fall factoring in new registrants and turnout among youths, African-Americans, and Hispanic-Americans.
What happens when, as university students go back to school in swing states, more than half of the student body gets registered in that state in a single weekend? In that case, it's not just a matter of new registrants, but of youngsters changing the state in which they vote. Don't think the Obama campaign has that up its sleeve? Check in with a college student in any battleground state in the coming weeks and report back to us.
See, 96 of McCain's 274 Electoral Votes on that map come from seven states where his lead is four percentage points or less in the aggregate "poll of polls": Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Missouri, Colorado, Nevada and Indiana. That's a vast territory to defend.
Among Obama's 264 Electoral Votes on that map, only 36 come from just four states where he is leading by less than five points: Michigan, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Minnesota.
And that's why field organization - registering new voters and turning them out on Election Day - is more important than the kinds of "messaging" matters that The Armchairmen fret about so loudly.
And here's my final thought: Remember the Democratic primary contests? When Obama was still the underdog, his troops were working harder and more "fired up and ready to go." It was after his 11-state winning streak in February that Senator Clinton got to play the underdog and made quite the ride of it, even though the math was insurmountable for her ever since she had lost Wisconsin and Hawaii on February 19. A lot of us knew that Obama had the nomination in the bag way back then, and, frankly, the grassroots just wasn't working as hard and began to rest on its laurels.
Obama plays the underdog role much better than he plays the frontrunner. Those that have constructed their echo chamber as a "panic room" are mainly trying to hold up their own illusions that Obama ever was safely ahead. They fear what would happen if suddenly the conventional wisdom shifted to a belief that McCain is going to win.
My own sense is counterintuitive: Let's have a month or two when people think McCain's got the upper hand, just like they thought that Clinton had the upper hand in January and early February. That's what it took for Obama's volunteers to work harder and donate more: February was his single greatest fundraising month, and the day after losing New Hampshire marked his single greatest fundraising date. Likewise, Clinton had better fundraising in the later months when she was perceived to be the underdog, too.
I'm not sure we'll get that, by the way. My greater sense is that the polls will remain neck-and-neck straight through to a nail-biting finish (but I'll be watching to see which pollsters adjust their demographic estimates based on new voter registrations among key groups: the rest will simply be offering chaffe).
In sum: There's no need to hold up the sky. Let it fall! It's the ground where the real action is going to take place. In fact, it already is. But if you're too busy writing "panic diaries," you're not out there to see it for yourself.