Thursday, October 30, 2008

Keeping the undecideds home

I think we're seeing two very different strategies toward undecided voters in the last days of Unending Marathon for the Presidency. One is trying to convince undecideds that voting will just get you involved in a scummy operation that likely requires a shower. The other is trying to convince undecideds that it really is a nice day, and your vote isn't really necessary anyway, so why bother?

The undecideds. A fascinating, mystifying, terrifying tribe of primitives who walk among us. I will admit a real discomfort with all these graphs that are pretty steady at Obama 50-McCain 45. I can't shake the feeling that the remaining 5% covers many people who don't want to admit they're voting for McCain. Traditionally Democratic voters unwilling to tell themselves or their pollster that they just can't pull a lever for an African-American. This isn't a Bradley Effect per se, which is voters lying about their intended vote (or maybe not). This is the safest refuge of a racist scoundrel -- keeping mum about one's racism until the last moment. Of course, the state polls look better than the national polls, which is good. Another notable fact: a 51% Obama result is the best winning percentage since 1988.

On one side, McCain is hoping to keep independent voters away from Obama by calling him every name he can think of. I think they're unearthing early 20th century political attacks at this point, having run out of modern stuff like "terrorist" and "socialist". Expect McCain to issue a robocall that insinuates Obama is a "puzzlewit" or "honeyfugler" soon. And given the current competence of the RNC, they'll probably be dialing that call into Rhode Island and Hawai'i. Oh, and loyal Republican officials are doing their best to turn their little fiefs into banana republics and preventing the wrong kind of people from voting. So if voting will be so hard, and everyone's a scumbag, why vote?

On the other hand, Obama seems to be telling possible McCain voters not to bother. Candy Crowley introduced her latest Obama update as concerning a man on a schedule "aiming for a blowout". He's advising people not to let up, but he's acting like a man sure of his supposedly weak states. He's going all-red. And now he's openly planning for the transition:

Barack Obama's campaign has approached Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel about possibly serving as White House chief of staff, officials said Thursday, looking ahead as the marathon presidential race entered its final, frenzied stretch with a Democratic tilt.

Self-important staffers talking smoke is par for the course in Washington, DC. But I suspect this is more than some self-important Emmanuel staffer talking out of line. I think this is pretty clearly Obama behind this. Witness:

The Democrats who described the contact with Emanuel spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to be quoted by name.

By name. As in "you can quote me, just don't use my name". As in Emmanuel and/or Obama said "tell this to the press, but don't let them use your name". Possibly Obama said to Emmanuel? Unless Emmanuel has lost all track of good sense at this point -- which I don't think is something he'd do, given his track record -- this is a bit of a gambit to tell demoralized Republicans not to bother.

I'm fascinated by the psychology of people who intend to vote even though they are undecided five days out from the endpoint of a two-year campaign. The fact that anyone could be undecided at this point tells me that they're probably better off not voting. However, an article I referenced earlier had a good line:

Most undecided voters, by contrast, seem to view politics the way I view laundry...a chore, a duty, something that must be done but is altogether unpleasant, and therefore something best put off for as long as possible.

What better way of convincing such people not to vote by assuring them they don't really need to do that...extending the parallel, by telling them that somebody else has pretty much washed all sorts of clothing that our undecided could wear, so he may as well stay home.

Look, I'm aware that this does risk pissing people off at the presumptuousness of it, and I'm sure it will be part of the McCain repertoire by the end of the day. However, Obama is coming closer to an "inevitability narrative" than either Hillary or Dean got when they were trying. Doesn't exactly give me a lot of confidence given their end results, but I'm past the point of questioning the wisdom of the Obama campaign. They're running the smoothest operation probably since 1992.

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