Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Time Stands Still

My life is crazy busy. Yours probably is, too. Days whiz by. It's impossible to figure out where whole blocks of time go. Sometimes I yearn for the days when I had a mindless, menial job where I'd look up at the clock and watch the hands move in slow motion.

But with a week until Election Day, the presidential campaign feels that way all of a sudden. The campaign clock is M o v i n g. L i k e. T h i s.

Will November 4th never get here? We're in a holding pattern. The candidates are repeating the same arguments, over and over again. The polls aren't changing that much. The counting of ballots seems anticlimactic. The suspense is s-l-o-w-l-y draining out of what once was a scintillating race.

Candidates and their handlers know when they've lost. Despite his outward optimism, you can see that losing feeling on John McCain's face. He's going through the motions, but his campaign is collapsing around him. Sarah Palin is straining at the reins, already positioning herself for 2012. Her aides and McCain's are sniping at each other. She's ignoring the McCain team's instructions and talking points and veering from their prescribed message. The former Romney aides who jumped on the McCain bandwagon when their own man's crashed and burned are already undermining Palin, to bolster Romney's chances against her the next time around. The Republican National Committee is withdrawing advertising dollars from states where McCain can no longer compete, and is spending some instead in places he shouldn't have to defend, such as Montana. Some within the RNC are even debating whether that's good money after bad, and whether those dollars would be better spent defending imperiled Congressional seats instead.

Can anyone gaze into the future right now and really see John McCain standing on the steps of the Capitol, delivering that Inauguration Address on a clear, cold January morning? Or striding into the House Chamber to a standing ovation to give his first State of the Union speech? No, when you close your eyes and picture the next president in those defining moments - it's Barack Obama you see.

Does this mean it's really over? Well, no I suppose not. Something weird could happen. All the polls could be wrong. The country could be even more racist than we thought. Obama could admit he's a Marxist.

But reason and experience tell us that next Tuesday's results are all but set in stone now. This is shaping up as the biggest Democratic landslide in more than 40 years. The Democrats will have 58, maybe even 60, seats in the U.S. Senate. Nancy Pelosi will preside over perhaps a 100-seat majority in the next Congress. Barack Obama won't just win the presidency - he may have a mandate, or what passes for one in an era of bitterly contested, razor-close elections.

When this election began, each party's presidential candidate mapped out his path to victory. The problem for John McCain is that he's painted himself into a corner. He has only one escape route, and it's narrow, and daunting. He must hold every single state that George W. Bush won in 2004, and if he loses even one big one, or two smaller ones, then he must wrest Pennsylvania from the Democratic column. That's why McCain and Palin are spending so much time in Pittsburgh, and in the rural, rednecky areas between Philly and Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, new routes to Electoral College triumph are opening up for Barack Obama like spokes from a crossroads. His initial strategy was to defend all the states won by John Kerry four years ago, and somehow capture one of McCain's big ones, or two of his smaller ones. Now he's got multiple options: he could win Virginia and Iowa, and clinch the presidency. Or he could take away Ohio. Or maybe Florida, plus North Carolina. Or he could lose all of those, but win Indiana, Colorado and New Mexico. Or how about parlaying blood-red Nevada, Missouri, Montana and - gasp - McCain's home state of Arizona into a stunning victory?

Okay, if that last scenario happens, then it's a landslide, and Obama will have won every other state I just mentioned. Which could actually happen. Obama is comfortably ahead now in Virginia, Iowa, and, in some polls, Ohio and Indiana too. He's narrowly ahead in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, and he's catching McCain in Montana and Arizona. He's neck-and-neck in Florida, North Carolina and Missouri.

All that's left is for the Big Clock to strike Poll Closing Time one Tuesday from now. If Obama wins big, he could have more than 270 projected electoral votes once the polls close in the Mountain states - around 7pm California time, 10pm on the East Coast, even while Californians are still voting. If some of those Eastern states are too close to call, or if McCain closes the gap in the final days, then it might take another hour or two to settle things.

In the meantime, we will cover whatever developments there are, order the pizza for Election Night, put up our big maps, and wait.

It will all come too soon for John McCain. It can't happen fast enough for Barack Obama.

N.B.: You might want to check out our story about robocalls, their illegality in California, and the sexy one that's got a Bay Area Republican candidate for Congress in hot water. Also, the latest polls of course, updated every day, and much more at www.sovernnation.com

On Election Night, I will live blog as we go, with constant updates, results, calling of states, etc. - as soon as someone shows me how to do that!

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