If I were the Obama campaign, I’d be getting pretty worried about recent polling trends. The latest tally now shows him with a razor-thin 275-250 lead in the electoral college. It has Obama winning Indiana, which seems flatly impossible given that Indiana has gone Republican for decades and went for Bush by 21 percent in 2004. Similarly, the map has Virginia a dead heat, but it too has been consistently Republican in recent decades. Northern Virginia is growing, but not that fast. Put Indiana and Virginia in the Republican column and you get a 274-264 win.
Matt Yglesias likes to mock the idea that “only” winning by a thin margin is bad news for Obama, but I think there’s more to the concept than he gives credit for. Obama is a black guy with a funny name and a polarizing pastor. John McCain is a white war hero. There’s plenty of raw material for the Republican smear machine to work with. Political campaigns are not fought with policy briefs and debating points. They’re fought with character assasination and appeals to tribal loyalty. The white war hero has a large, immediate advantage in that kind of competition.
Now, Obama’s an extremely talented politician and a likeable guy, and he may very well find ways to neutralize these kinds of attacks. But I wouldn’t bet on it. His blowout victory in his 2004 Senate race and his relatively genteel race with Hillary Clinton certainly haven’t given him any practice.
So if Obama is barely holding his own now, at a time when McCain is running an incredibly unfocused campaign and before the really vicious smears have come out, he’s going to be in trouble once the McCain campaign gets its act together and the 527s start doing their work. We should remember that at this point in the race John Kerry was predicted to win by an even wider 301-213 margin, without improbable victories in Virginia and Indiana. We know how that one turned out.