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From the New York Times:

Senator Barack Obama has started a sustained and hard-hitting advertising campaign against Senator John McCain in states that will be vital this fall, painting Mr. McCain in a series of commercials as disconnected from the economic struggles of the middle class.

Mr. Obama has begun the drive with little fanfare, often eschewing the modern campaign technique of unveiling new spots for the news media before they run in an effort to win added (free) attention. Mr. Obama, whose candidacy has been built in part on a promise to transcend traditional politics, is running the negative commercials on local stations even as he runs generally positive spots nationally, during prime-time coverage of the Olympics.

Here’s two things worth saying about this.
(1) The ads aren’t actually very hard-hitting. Obama has run the whole campaign since Berlin at half-throttle. He’s still a few points ahead of McCain in most national polls, and well ahead (though his lead is shrinking) in electoral-college predictions. And if he keeps telling himself that, he’ll lose.
(2) More germane to Canadian campaigns: This business of announcing ads without running them, or running ads without announcing them, has become common in this country in the past few election cycles and will certainly be more prevalent in the next campaign than before. This is a gentle note to my colleagues in other news organizations. It is folly to rely on political parties’ announcements of their ad strategies as the main source for our coverage of their ad strategies. They will free-ride off our coverage even as they hide their most substantial moves from us. Readers and viewers will compare the fairy tales we passively pass along to them against what they actually see on TV and hear on the radio, and they will tell themselves once again that we don’t know what we’re talking about.

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  1. Censored?

  2. [blocked comment]

    Video killed the radio star.
    Video killed the radio star.
    In my mind and in my car, we can’t rewind we’ve gone to far

    It’s kinda late. Allow me a few hours to think of something profound to write about providing free advertising by news organizations that rely upon advertising for their survival, and for the money to hire more reporters.

  3. Must be a webhickup hickup. My original comment started with Video killed but for some reason never made it past the filter bots

    WebAdmin: Please delete this and other comments once my original posting passes frisking

  4. It’s the economy, you doltish blockhead

    Maybe the ads aint’ so hard hitting, but at least they are bringing up the economy. Poor Obama, if he goes negative pundits will get upset, if he doesn’t, pundits will get upset. I guess that is the problem with the promise to transcend traditional politics.

    Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Survery
    Who do you think has better ideas for the economy?
    – Obama 45%
    – McCain 28%

  5. Wells, you’re slightly out of date.

    McCain’s pulled ahead in the battleground states, and so if you distribute the toss-up states, he’s ahead 274-264.

    Mind you, we’re going to have the Veep picks and the conventions soon, so this data will very quickly be overtaken by events. But my friends who support Obama (which is to say, most of my American friends) who had been pushing electoral vote counts at me have gone quiet all of a sudden…

    Me, I’m optimistic. Republicans tend to pick up ground in the last few weeks of the campaign.

  6. Pollster still has it 264-180….so McCain would have to win all the toss-ups….but you’re right, Ben, all will soon change. One way or other.


  7. blues clair – the pundits aren’t getting upset that Obama’s gone negative, or at least not like they did when Mccain did. Where’s Luiza to fret about how Obama’s taking things out of context?

    The press is kept mostly quiet about how he started going negative about 10 days ago and they are only now mentioning it. They are helping him to keep his promise to not play the same old washington games.

    And I agree with Paul about how the ads aren’t very hard hitting. The Dems need practice at writing a more hard hitting ad. Personally, i think the best attack ads are funny while making serious point. Obama ads are too serious for my liking.

  8. I think real clear politics has the best poll/electoral college numbers and for electoral predictions they have ‘Obama 228, McCain 178, toss ups 132’ or ‘no toss ups: Obama 264, McCain 274’.

    I think all we can take from polls is the two candidates are very close indeed, which is bad news for Obama. Traditionally the dems have 8-10% in the summer and the repub candidate slowly closes the gap in the fall.

  9. After sleeping on it, my profound thoughts about providing free advertising by news organizations that rely upon advertising for their survival, and for the money to hire more reporters.

    This is a gentle note to his colleagues in other news organizations:

    It’s called cutting your own throats.

  10. This focus on polls is so ridiculous this far out from the election. Can’t see the forest for the trees.
    The important thing is always the fundamentals: economy (reflected in things like GDP growth rate), presidential approval (in doldrums), and incumbency fatigue. You can use these 3 indicators to predict not only the outcome of each presidential election since WWII, but also the margin of victory.
    Add to that the money advantage, and it’s obvious that Obama will win, and he will win big. But hey, the pundits have to have *something* to talk about until November.

  11. Oh come on Wells, one poll in the dead of August and that’s supposed to be interesting? Or significant? Does the word “outlier” mean nothing these days?

    It’s interesting that McCain’s recent poll bounce has occurred just as his complete jettisoning of principled stands and discourse has accelerated so wildly that the human eye can’t even keep up. Of course, it was precisely those long-standing principled views in opposition to his party that made him so popular with independents and Democrats.

    This is a poor, misguided long-term strategy for McCain. To abandon core values for the sake of a few points in a Zogby poll, which will melt away like snow in Miami come November, is misguided no matter how you slice it.

  12. But gentry, you’ve told us that it’s all pre-determined. The economy, approval ratings of the incumbent party, and all that are decisive.

    So what does it matter what strategy McCain picks, short-term or long-term? He’ll lose anyway. (So say the statistical models.)


    That said, Zogby is as good a signal as a dartboard. (Though it’s still fun to watch.)

  13. It doesn’t matter, not for the outcome of the election. But it matters for John McCain’s legacy, whom I had respect for, once. Seeing him wallow in the deepest dirtiest mud imaginable is….maybe not distressing, but certainly very very sad.

  14. How dare that John McCain actually try to win the election.

    Positively un-American, it is. :p

  15. Gentry Here are some stats for you:

    1)Only one Democrat candidate has gotten more than 50% of the total vote since ’68.

    2) The trend from 1988 – 2004 shows that the GOP candidate tends to under-poll in the summer–with the exception, as you can see below, of the 2000 campaign. In each of the other four years, the Republican candidate had been polling significantly behind the Democrat at this point in the race. Each of those times, however, the Republican improved his position, gaining an average of 15 points relative to the Democrat.


    3) Who is the ‘incumbent’? Neither Bush or Cheney are running again and congress’ poll numbers are worse than the president’s numbers.

    4) There have been 6 presidential election blowouts, more than 10% spread in total votes, and the candidates that won had at least 8% lead in summer, except for Reagan in ’80.

    This is going to be a tight election that I think McCain is going to win.

  16. jwl, to respond to your points:

    1) Irrelevant since it’s not a popular vote election, much less one where 50% of the vote is needed or even desired.

    2) Also, the trend from 1988-2004 has been that in election years where Jamaica wins 4 or more Olympic track medals, the Democratic candidate wins by a margin of half a point per medal.

    3) You don’t think the American people are aware that Bush and McCain are from the same party?

    4) Hah, the only such blowout in the last 30 years was Reagan in ’84. The fundamentals of American elections have changed so much since then it’s not even worth comparing.

  17. jwl, if enjoy stats and equations, go here, for some real summertime fun.

  18. Oh, don’t get us wrong — if McCain wins, it’ll go against all of these models, because this election shouldn’t even be close.

    But social scientists are working with a relatively small sample size of data points here.


    Me, I think there’s still a chance this election might not be close — just not the way we’d have thought, this time last year.

  19. I just think it’s kinda hilarious how Republicans (and people favouring McCain in general) have leapt upon this one outlier poll like rabid cranes – on some conservative blogs, one can even see predictions that the GOP will re-take control of Congress (both chambers, no less!) in addition to McCain trouncing Obama in every state but that pinko liberal haven of Taxachussetts.

    I s’ppose if my guy was doing that badly, I’d be looking for any bright spots I can find, too.

  20. Thanks Blues Clair. I hate stats and equations but the article was interesting. Goes to show that you can slice and dice these things however you want.

    I personally think McCain is going to win because he’s a happy warrior in a time of war and Obama doesn’t have the gravitas for the times when there are wars in Iraq/Afghanistan/Georgia and maybe one in Pakistan.

  21. jwl, just a question for you. If Obama doesn’t have the gravitas for these times of war, does Harper?

  22. Sorry, I know the question is somewhat irrelevant to the conversation on this thread.

  23. Blues Clair I would say Harper does have the gravitas when compared to other Canadian leaders but not compared to McCain.

    I am tall, skinny guy like Obama (and Dion now that I think about it) and there is something about our build that does not reassure people. We look insubstantial or something and many people decide who they are going to vote for by impressions, not policies.

  24. If they pick the ancient midget instead of Jesus Christ, it’s all over for the American Empire.

  25. So with the Zogby polls saying McCain has a 5 point lead, and the electoral vote predictors saying that Obama’s lead in EVs has evaporated to a statistical tie..

    Can we officially say today is the day Obama went from ‘way out in front’ to ‘losing’?

  26. Really and truly, he hasn’t been “way out in front” for a month, and he isn’t losing just yet.

    Senator Obama has a small national lead still (less than five points), and probably will into convention week.

    He doesn’t have an electoral vote lead now.


    And Zogby is unreliable — wouldn’t trust them for much. But there’s been a ten to twelve point swing since the start of July for all of the polls that gave Obama a significant lead then.

  27. But I’d agree that this is the day when that reality began to sink in, for a whole bunch of people (north and south of the border). ;-)

  28. Do people still actually watch Canadian TV? I haven’t owned a TV in over 7 years, but when you look at the websites at CBC, CTV and Global it is hard to comprehend why anyone would put out dollars for the CRTC approved horse hooey they produce.

    I won’t vote for anyone I can’t meet in person. Not that I have super ‘look into his eyes’ powers a la Bush, but because I kind of like retail politics. Bring on the local debates and Q&A’s until then leave me alone.

  29. Ben, as someone who would like to see Obama take the Whitehouse, I can’t recall anyone, except for rabid partisans on both sides ( north and south of border), who thought that this wouldn’t be anything but a close race. It is kind of funny to think of the Repulicans as the underdogs, considering their considerable electoral success since 1968.

  30. Well, it’s after a two term presidency — even when the presidents are popular, like Clinton or Reagan, the out party starts with a 15-20 point lead. (Dukakis in July ’88, Bush in April ’00.)

    It’s just that the Democrats haven’t had too many of them in recent American political history… The GOP seems to be the natural party of the presidency and the Dems the natural party to control the Congress.

    (Only one Democratic president has been elected and then re-elected with an absolute majority of the popular vote since the Civil War — FDR. Heck, only four Democrats have won a majority of the popular vote since 1860 — Tilden in 1876, FDR’s four wins, Johnson in 1964, and Carter in 1976.)

  31. I just had the strangest thought! What if the upcoming American election plays out as a dead heat winding up with another recount in Florida -> then what would their Supreme Court Do?

  32. Same thing it did the last time: side with the GOP.

  33. With respect to the “negative” ads:

    (1) Agree with Wells, the ads aren’t that negative. No doubt NYT is taking great pains to make sure it points out the flaws in Obama’s campaign as they (and many outlets) are constantly accused of bias by the Republican Machine – which has been and continues to be a phenomenally successful strategy. In reality, the lack of substantive reporting has been on the McCain side.

    (2) The variation in the polls has been absolutely WILD, both in terms of popular vote and EC, even polls that have come out on the same day.

    I cannot tell if this is a more recent phenomenon or not – but I would like to see some serious investigative journalism into the methodologies of the different polls, and a good analysis of how supposedly statistically correct poll results can vary so much. No doubt some of the polls are have a greater degree of scientific accuracy than others.

    Anybody seen this type of analysis?

  34. Ben, considering that Hillary Clinton took in about 18 million votes in the Democratic primary campaign, couldn’t that explain why Obama didn’t start out with a 15-20 point lead?


  35. I also read an explanation somewhere on why Obama might not be doing well in the polls. He has brought lots of new voters to the party, mostly young people, and polls don’t normally sample many young people because historically they didn’t vote but it looks to be different this year.

  36. It certainly could.

    On the other hand, there were at least two polls in June that had him up by 12-15 points. (Newsweek and LA Times/Bloomberg, I believe.)

    A Clintonite Democrat might argue, on the other (third?) hand, that Obama is a fundamentally weak candidate. He had one great month, February, which built him the lead that gave him the nomination, but as the voters got to know him better, Hillary won out. (The last seven states of nine? Including two states, Indiana and South Dakota, that Obama’s Feb 7th spreadsheet said he expected to win.) Such a person might argue that Obama’s people brilliantly gamed the system to get him the nomination, as did McGovern’s youth legions in ’72, but that it doesn’t make a lick of difference in the general election where there are no caucuses to pack or low-turnout jurisdictions to swamp with new registrants.

    (I’m a McCain Republican — if that isn’t an oxymoron — who in theory stays resolutely neutral in this intra-party squabble.)

    Michael Barone, for one (he does election night voter breakdown on Fox), questions the two-term rule:

    Which would go along with what you say.


    I don’t know. I think McCain can win, objective politico-economical models notwithstanding, and I think the possibility is there for him to win like Bush in 1988 (i.e. taking 40 states), if things break just right for him.

    We’ll see.

  37. jwl makes a good point about sampling: Obama has attracted unprecedented numbers of young and minority voters, who are generally considered to be unlikely to actually vote on election day. Most statistical models ascribe a very low probability, for example, to a young African-American man’s voting intention being converted into an actual vote (as opposed to, say, an affluent white retired lady).

    But are things different this year? I think they are. The simple ebb and flow of polling, which I think there’s way too much handwringing (or conversely, gloating) about, aside, the mass mobilization of previously neglected segments of the electorate (as evidenced in the Democratic primaries) is going to cause some unprecedented shifts.

    In addition to virtually every socio-economic indicator breaking heavily in Obama’s favour, this additional realignment threatens to bite deep into previously uncontested red states, forcing McCain to choose between spending his meagre financial resources trying to woo voters in purple states while leaving his rear undefended (and thus potentially yielding North Carolina, or, say, Indiana) or else defending what can be defended and abandoning Ohio and Pennsylvania.

    Not to mention that the GOP machine and operational network on the ground is broken, and even if it weren’t, is engaged mostly with salvaging 40 Senate seats and as many House seats as can be saved.

    It ain’t easy being a Republican, these days….

    Well, I guess the messiah is just a two bit politician after all. Obama’s supporters complain that Americans are too stupid to choose a candidate based on issues, but they stick with Obama, even after he has flip flopped on all the issues … as if to say “I will continue to support Obama, no matter what he says, does, or believes. Blind loyalty is what’s really stupid.

  39. Obama may think he is the messiah, but it is McCain who will defeat EVIL. I’m stupId.

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