But even with the national polls giving McCain a boost, it's tough to find many political professionals, even on the Republican side, who don't see Obama as the leader heading into the final months of the election.
Because the Electoral College - not the popular vote - determines who is president, the presidential contest isn't one national election but rather 50 statewide contests. And polls in those states give Obama and the Democrats a commanding lead in the electoral vote.
"It's now a state-by-state effort and not a national campaign," said Garry South, a veteran Democratic consultant. "The popular vote may be fairly close, but I don't believe it will be close at all in the Electoral College."
RealClearPolitics.com, for example, has state polls giving Obama 238 electoral votes and McCain 174, with 10 states with 126 electoral votes listed as tossups. Pollster.com, which also aggregates state polls, gives Obama 260 electoral votes, just 10 short of the 270 he needs to become president.
"It's difficult to say the race is really tied," said [Dan] Schnur [a former McCain spokesman]. "If McCain and his advisers thought he was in the driver's seat, they wouldn't have made the type of gamble selecting Sarah Palin (as the vice presidential nominee) represented." [my emphasis]
Joe Garofoli looks at the culture-war approach current being taken by the McCain-Palin campaign in GOP tests out renewing U.S. 'culture wars'San Francisco Chronicle 09/07/08.. His report gives us reason to think this is a desperation strategy, reflecting the Republicans' serious challenges in the Electoral College. But we'd have to qualify that somewhat. The Republicans try to exploit "culture war" issues in every Presidential election. But based on the Republican Convention, they are clearly putting unusual stress on it this time around. But Garofoli writes:
... Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California, said the culture-war rhetoric may disappear in a couple of weeks if the McCain campaign's internal polling shows that it isn't connecting with swing voters.
"They were test-marketing a lot of concepts in (Palin's) speech," Baldassare said. "They were trying out an anti-Washington message, an anti-media message and an anti-Democratic message. We'll know more in a couple of weeks. And we'll also be able to tell a lot by how the Democrats respond."
That last is key. The Democrats can't afford to ignore those attacks. The record on the Dems' response is mixed right now, so far as I can see.
Garofoli puts the "uppity" remark from a Republican Congressman last week into the context of the current McCain-Palin campaign:
The GOP is crafting its narrative in the language of a sort of reverse snobbery. On Thursday, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., called the Obamas - who were both educated at Ivy League schools - "members of an elitist class that thinks they're uppity." Though Westmoreland, a white Republican who represents the Atlanta suburbs, said he didn't mean it in a racial sense, the term has its roots in the pre-Civil War South to describe blacks who spoke up for themselves. [my emphasis]
Garofoli is writing there like a real journalist! He didn't rely on a "this side says, the other side says" construction to tell the readers what "uppity" means in political language.
He does the same with the Limbaugh/Republican use of "community organizer" as an insult; "ghetto agitator" would be the definition I use for what they mean. Garofoli:
In this war, "community organizer" is synonymous with working for a liberal nonprofit organization. Apparently, Republicans have forgotten about how President George H.W. Bush's call for a "thousand points of light" turned into the Hands On Network/Points of Light Foundation, which organizes volunteers to do charitable work.
He defines the Republicans' current approach as follows: "Using the GOP paintbrush, the race pits the 'ex-POW war hero' and the 'hockey mom' versus the Ivy League elitist and the career senator."
And he describes how the hardcore conservatives among the Republican delegates to last week's Convention tend to view the "culture war" issues:
They loathe the media and love [Palin's] hard line on abortion, which she opposes even if the woman is the victim of rape or incest. And social conservatives approve of her conservative evangelical Christian church in Wasilla supporting a conference in nearby Anchorage that proposes to convert gays to heterosexuals through the power of prayer.
There's one more Chronicle article worth citing here, GOP resurging as party of mavericks by Carla Marinucci 09/07/08. Marinucci gives a picture of the challenge the McCain-Palin ticket faces in trying to distance themselves from the disastrous brand image of their own Republican Party:
Can McCain-Palin sell themselves as the agents of change - and distance themselves from their party's two-term hold on the White House under George W. Bush - in the urban and suburban enclaves where moderate and independent voters are worried about gas prices and the war in Iraq, the home mortgage crisis and health care?
"You never saw the word 'Republican' in the convention hall," said Democratic strategist Phil Trounstine, who noted the waving signs proclaiming "service" and "peace" but nothing regarding Bush or the GOP. "McCain is saying elect me because of who I am. Which might work, if they weren't so closely tied to the party that has been in power for the past eight years.
"They're trying to present themselves as the maverick party, not the Republican Party ... and John McCain is trying to position himself as if he were not the standard bearer for the GOP," he said. "He's running as an independent - and it's Palin's job to gin up the base. It's a two-pronged attack." ...
But with 80 percent of Americans believing that the country is on the wrong track, and Bush's approval ratings at an all-time low, ... the sales job won't be easy. The party's convention was unabashed in its efforts to erase the memory of its standard-bearer, Bush, whose name was mentioned just twice the entire week by elected officials. [my emphasis]