Which is worse, thirty more days to Election Day and your ticket is trailing, or thirty more days and your ticket is ahead in the polls? As a partisan it always feels good to be winning, but this pleasure appears superficial when you want to also maintain some insight into what's going on. Thirty days is plenty of time for the other side to stage a comeback, or for your side to blow it all. Maybe. But sometime right around now there will be a tipping point when the pros in politics and the media will know what's going to happen to a certainty. They won't say it, for various reasons. Both campaigns have an interest in campaigning to the very last day, even when everybody inside knows that the game was over, say, two weeks ago. I remember in 1992 that we ("we" who were not clueless) knew that Clinton-Gore were going to win, I remember telling one of my classes that I believed that Clinton was in, maybe a week out. As I recall, the point was reached when one could simply do the math. But if you're just a member of the lumpen professoriat like me that late date is the earliest that I would dare call it. The Mike Murphys and Bob Strausses of the world often know these things quite a bit earlier on.
This time around, nobody is going to give me any points for predicting an Obama-Biden win this week while they're up in the polls, but what I've got is this:
Consider the 2004 election result. The Democrats lost that election when they lost Ohio and Iowa, and it was a close thing for them in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania besides. In 2000 they carried Iowa and of course that election is unusually ambiguous, but in both of those elections the battleground was in the Upper Midwest, and in both many argued that Ohio was the state that swung it. I knew, in the last months of the 2004 race, that the fact that Michigan, Wisconsin and even Minnesota were in play was very bad news for Kerry-Edwards. Sad, too: Minnesota and Wisconsin are old "Progressive," anti-gold standard states, left-leaning through much of the twentieth century, and Michigan and Ohio are Rust Belt states that were longtime bastions of Democratic Party and labor union power. When the election is being fought in states like that you know the Democrats are in trouble.
Now look where the battleground is today. Missouri, Colorado, Nevada, bedrock Republican Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina and, most impressive of all, Florida are in the "too close to call" category as of today. Two months ago (maybe even one month ago) the suggestion that the Democrats had a shot at Florida would have drawn hoots from the punditocracy. One thing they were right about is that the state is an absolute must-win for the Republicans. Even if Obama-Biden don't take Florida, forcing McCain-Palin to fight there draws money and time from other areas: this week McCain actually dropped, altogether, his Michigan campaign. He simply can't pay for it and scramble in expensive media markets like Florida and Virginia. Speaking of Virginia, if Obama wins any Southern states at all he will be the first non-Southern Democrat to carry a Southern state since JFK did it in 1960 (and with this Sunday morning's political talk we learn that there is now movement in Louisiana, of all places). He's competitive in four. Oh, did I mention he's black?