End Game

Having made several attempts, on American Spectator Online, to make sense of this interminable, albeit exciting, election, I have been chastened by events throughout its unpredictable twists and turns. Thirty days out from the election, with the end game now commencing, I am profoundly uncertain as to its ultimate outcome.

RealClearPolitics.com puts Senator Obama up by 5.9 percent, an averaging of all polling to date. It also has him beating McCain in Virginia, on average, by 2.4 percent. From where I sit in Fairfax County, Virginia, within the orbit of Washington, D.C., Obama is likely to follow the pattern of other statewide Democratic candidates who have rolled up double-digit numbers in this part of what was once considered a safe Red State.

As a native of St. Louis, I note that the Arizona Senator is still holding onto a narrow lead in Missouri, 1.7 percent, which has voted for the winning presidential candidate in every election of the post-war era except for 1956. Of course, Virginia, with its growing and diverse population, may be a better indicator than the Show Me State. But I really don’t know.

Clearly, the near meltdown of the nation’s finances in the last two weeks has been a “game changer,” to use the cliche now in vogue. And it is has not changed in favor of Senator McCain and the Republicans.

Last weekend I recall telling my daughter, who is working at a ranch outside of Cody, Wyoming, to move at least some of her deposits from Wachovia into another local bank. While I assumed that federal deposit insurance would eventually come through, I did not want her to be shut out of her cash if the dismemberment of the bank dragged on for months or even years. No one in our family has had a conversation like that since, what, the 1930s?

Although the Obama campaign is sitting pretty for now, thirty days is certainly an eternity in a national political campaign. Just recall the past thirty, sixty or ninety days. Governor Palin has only been around for five or six weeks. The stock market lost between 9 and 10 percent last week. Remember Senator Clinton’s rally late in the primary campaign? Moreover, the McCain campaign is about to “unleash hell,” to use a phrase coined by Peggy Noonan on Meet the Press yesterday. Well, politics ain’t bean bag, as Mr. Dooley reminded us.

Still, the Obama campaign is the model of calm, cool, relentless organizational perfection, registering voters, raising money and organizing volunteers on line and emulating U.S. Grant’s harassment of Lee in forcing the McCain campaign to over-extend its supply lines, divide its forces, or begin triage sooner than it would like. McCain’s recent decision to abandon the field in Michigan was quite a blow given previous high hopes among Republicans.

This general election race pits maybe the weakest of the Democratic candidates against the strongest Republican candidate. Hillary Clinton would probably be winning handily right now given the economic morass, two wars, and an unpopular Republican incumbent in the White House. John McCain’s reputation as a maverick allows him to distance himself from the Bush administration and flourish in a hostile political environment that would have been fatal to the other contenders in the GOP primary. Nevertheless, McCain’s relative strengths are presently overshadowed by the present economic crisis.

The countervailing factors threatening Obama’s recent rise in the polls are the character issue which the McCain campaign is already raising and the dark undertow of any potential “Bradley Effect” in which race may still impact the final vote in November.

Finally, the Catholic vote, often referred to as the “jump ball” of American presidential politics, will be crucial to victory, especially in the Midwest. On social and cultural issues, McCain has a clear advantage with this block of voters. On the economy, Obama has the advantage. The issues of war and peace cut both ways.

This is still an election too close to call.

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