Ten Reasons Why McCain Doesn't Have a Prayer

My PJM colleague Jennifer Rubin penned a column yesterday in which she listed the ten reasons why McCain could still win.

Jennifer, never one to shrink from a challenge, did an excellent job of showing how, despite being down in the polls with just a week to go, John McCain could still catch Barack Obama and win the election.


But there are two people in this race. And while McCain is grimly hanging on, fighting for his political life with the same determination and courage that kept him alive in a POW camp for five years, Barack Obama has delivered what he hopes will be a coup de grâce — the half hour network TV infomercial aired Wednesday night, designed to seal the deal with the voters and propel him to the presidency.

But the question arises: is Obama in any danger of losing even without the glitzy ad shtick? There are no sure things in horse racing or politics, but a good case can be made that this race has been over for weeks and that Obama will win an electoral landslide if not a popular vote mandate.

Here are the top 10 reasons why McCain doesn’t have a prayer.

10. About those tracking polls…

There is no doubt the tracking polls for Rasmussen, Gallup, Zogby and the rest have been narrowing of late. But the movement toward McCain has been a ripple when he needs a virtual tsunami. You can cherry-pick polls based on “likely voters” or “registered voters” or, as Gallup has done, on a different model of “likely voters.” No matter what side you’re on, you will probably find ammunition for your argument.

But if you aggregate the tracking polls with the surveys commissioned by major media — the so-called “snapshot polls” — a different picture emerges nationally. In this case, Obama comes out with a much larger lead: 6 points on the conservative RealClearPolitics.com, while Nate Silver’s liberal election blog 538 shows Obama with a 5.5% advantage in the aggregate. This is not an impossible hill for McCain to climb, but the election won’t be determined by the national popular vote: it is the electoral vote that counts and the 50 individual state races — more accurately the 12 or so “battleground” states — will determine the winner.


9. The Magic Number

It takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency. Most of the pollsters keep a running total of the states that are “solid” or “strong” for each candidate, as well as “leaners.” As it stands right now, Barack Obama has the luxury of having several different avenues to victory by having locked up — by the reckoning of most pollsters — 260-280 electoral votes in the “solid” or “strong” category. The criteria varies, but for the most part it means that Obama has more than a 15-point lead in those states in his column. McCain, on the other hand, is given between 170 and 180 solid electoral votes.

For McCain to win, he is going to have to take almost all the remaining “leaners” or toss ups. His margin for error is extraordinarily slim. He must come back from deficits in several states — a daunting task considering his limited resources and the fact that he is running out of time. McCain has perhaps two or three realistic scenarios where he can reach 270, while Obama might have a dozen.

For McCain to win, almost everything would have to break his way on election night.

8. Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania

If Obama wins any one of those states, it is virtually over for McCain. He might get by with losing one of those contests if he could hold on to Virginia and Colorado — two states Bush carried handily in 2004. But McCain trails in Colorado by as much as 9 points with the aggregate of all polls making it about a 7-point deficit. Virginia is no better. He doesn’t have the resources or time to make a maximum effort in both states so the chances are big that he will lose at least one of them.


This makes Pennsylvania vital for his campaign. There has been some movement toward the Republican in the last few days, cutting a double-digit lead down to 7-9 points thanks apparently to Sarah Palin’s efforts in wooing conservative Democrats. But Obama has been pouring money and resources into the state, and it will be a very tough road for McCain to find a victory there.

7. Red State Trouble

It is a political axiom that if you are spending money and resources trying to lock up your base a week before the election, you are in big trouble. Barack Obama is within 4 points in Georgia and 2 points in Indiana and North Carolina. Those three states went for George Bush by more than 12 points in 2004 and should have been safely in McCain’s electoral column by now. The fact that they’re not says volumes about how Obama has altered the political landscape.

It is also close in Montana, North Dakota, and even McCain’s home state of Arizona — all now considered toss up states by the pollsters. An Obama wave could pick off one or two of those states making McCain’s job impossible.

6. Money, Money, Money

When all is said and done, Barack Obama will have spent $40 million in Florida to win that state. John McCain began the campaign with $86 million in federal financing. If anything highlights John McCain’s uphill struggle, it is the discrepancy in campaign funds to spend on ads and infrastructure. Obama is outspending McCain 4-1 or more in every state.


In the end, it will almost certainly make the difference.

5. “That woman”

The media has done an outstanding job in savaging Sarah Palin. There were so many rumors, lies, and innuendo published in the media about Palin that PJM’s Charlie Martin gathered them together in one place just to see how truly amazing the media’s sliming of Palin has been. Charlie’s catalogued 84, and counting.

However, that’s water under the bridge at this point. And the fact is, that the smears have worked; every poll taken on the subject shows that Palin may have rallied the Republican base and got it energized, but she has killed McCain among independents and white women — two demographic groups McCain must have to win.

Recent polling has McCain coming back slightly among independents. But he still trails Obama by double digits among indies in most polls which does not bode well for his chances.

4. Favorable/Unfavorable

Until the financial meltdown, John McCain was fairly even with Obama as far as his favorability ratings are concerned. Politicians pay attention to this factor because it is a good indicator of a candidate’s strength. Today, McCain’s favorable rating is around +8 — that is, 8% more voters have a favorable opinion of him than unfavorable. This is considered weak but not a negative.


Obama on the other hand has an average of +21 in his favorability rating — an extremely strong indication that his voters are committed and that even those disposed not to vote for him like him.

3. The oddsmakers

If you’re a degenerate gambler like me, you know this race has been over for a month. Here are the current odds:

At the bookmaker the odds on Barack Obama to win in November are now sitting at -900 and John McCain is an unbelievable underdog with odds at +600! If you don’t know how odds work, here is a quick explanation — the odds on McCain at +155 last month meant that bettors will win $155 for every $100 they risk; the odds today on McCain at +600 mean that now people stand to win $600 for every $100 they risk; or the odds on McCain are now almost 4 times worse than a month ago, despite the shrinking of Barack Obama’s lead, according to the major polls.

If you want to wager on Obama, a $900 bet will win you $100 if he wins the election.

It’s not just the bookies: Intrade, the online market, has Obama with an 85% chance of winning.

Now these guys are not in the business of losing their shirts. This is as close to a lock that you will find in the betting world. With odds like that, McCain would have to pull off the most spectacular upset in the history of American politics — far beyond Truman’s surprise in 1948.


2. It’s the economy, stupid.

The financial meltdown and bailout have hurt McCain severely. And in many parts of the country, businesses are closing their doors and laying off workers. We may not officially be in a recession, but in some regions of the country where McCain must do well to win the election the economy is tanking. Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida (where the subprime mortgage bust has turned many neighborhoods into ghost towns) are all hurting disproportionately to the rest of the country.

And people are blaming Bush, the Republicans, and by extension John McCain.

1. Anger management

The American people are angry, frightened, and worried about the future. Rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly, they are blaming Republicans for this mess and appear ready to give the Democrats not only the presidency, but an increased margin in the House and a possible filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Obama is offering hope and optimism — the two powerful elixirs in American politics. The electoral map is heavily favoring his candidacy and John McCain is behind, out of time, and could be out of luck.


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