Remembering Obama vs. McCain

Four years ago McCain was the only Presidential candidate with gray hair

I started this blog “World in Motion” back in May 2008, with my first blog post about comparing cyclone Nargis with hurricane Katrina.   That meant I was blogging through fall election campaign so I decided to look back at how I was describing the last days of that campaign.

Some posts were light.   The world series was going on, and it reminded me that in 1980 I was rooting for the Phillies and put a big “Tug McGraw for President” sign on my door (he was the relief pitching ace for the Phillies, if you never heard of him).   2008 felt a lot like 1980, Americans were ready for a change.

Tug McGraw and the Phillies defeated the Kansas City Royals in 1980

I didn’t keep track of all the polls, but exactly 11 days before the election I wrote about the polls which showed a clear lead by Obama over McCain, usually by 4 to 6 points.  A few polls had a double digit lead, and IBD/TIPP showed Obama up only one.   The state polls had comfortable leads for Obama, though one (Strategic Vision) had McCain up in a couple swing states and in striking distance of others.   That company still exists, but focuses on marketing.   It was one of those partisan polls that tried to make the race seem closer than it was.

On October 27th I wrote about “Democratic Gloom and Angst,” about how Democrats were convinced that negative tactics and dirty tricks in the waning days of the campaign might give the election to McCain, here’s part:

“Moreover, many are convinced that the negativity will be ratcheted up, perhaps with new video from Rev. Wright, or some false but yet believable rumor that will be pushed out at the end of the campaign, without Obama having time to effectively respond.  It doesn’t have to change the whole dynamic, just win enough votes to win the “red” states they need on November 4th.  Indeed, some are convinced that the faked attack on a McCain worker, who claimed a black man attacked her and carved a “B” in her face, was part of some kind of dirty trick.  She’s from Pennsylvania, the state McCain hopes to flip by scaring those in the western part of the state to think Obama is too strange and risky.  Even if they don’t like McCain, perhaps they can be persuaded not to vote for Obama.”

Although Obama cruised to an easy victory in 2008, supporters were nervous up until the end

In hindsight that election looks like it was an easy victory for Obama – a country in economic turmoil with a young candidate promising hope and chance alongside an old out of touch McCain.   At the time, it didn’t feel like a sure thing to most people.    I also had a post about early voting and the ground game, which hit on some of the same themes I wrote about yesterday.

I’d forgotten one post “Desperation Breeds Stupidity,” bemoaning the fact Elizabeth Dole, a woman I’ve always admired, had an ad attacking her opponent Kay Hagan, an elder in the Presbyterian church and a Sunday School teacher:

“In the ad a tough narrator notes that Kay Hagan held a fundraiser that was ‘hosted by the Godless Americans PAC,’ showing clips of people from that group calling for God to be removed from the pledge of allegiance and from money, and in general dissing religion.  ‘What did she promise them’ in exchange for the fundraising, the ad asks.  It ends with a close up of Kay Hagan and a voice saying ‘There is no God!'”

Kay Hagen sworn in as North Carolina’s Junior Senator

It didn’t work, North Carolina’s junior Senator is now Kay Hagan.

On the weekend before the election I had a post “Is McCain Surging?”  The Drudge Report and right leaning media tried to create the sense that the race was tightening and McCain might pull it off:

“To look at the Drudge Report, you’d think McCain has been steadily inching closer to Barack Obama, and is within striking distance of taking the popular vote lead and running the sweep of toss up states necessary to come from behind and win the election.  Last week it was a “shock Gallup poll” which showed the two within two points using the ‘traditional model’ for likely voters.  By Sunday it was a ten point race in that group again.  But no matter, Rasmussen showed it narrow to three points, so that was cited — well within the margin of error!  Alas, it expanded back to five points, and Rasmussen declares the race “remarkably stable” with Obama at about an 85% chance for victory.

Then it was the IBD/TIPP poll which has always showed a tighter race.  And finally on early Saturday morning Drudge screamed out that ‘McCain leads in overnight polling!’  Wow!  He must be zooming back.  For the Obama fans, this is their worst case scenario, another defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, an unexpected comeback.  For the McCain faithful this plus slightly tightening polls in Pennsylvania and Ohio shows that their come back scenario is on track — they can do it!”

Watching the current race, which is much much closer, I’m reminded how hindsight has 2020 vision.   Now it appears as if after September 15th when McCain suspended his campaign and then seemed to flail around helplessly in trying to respond to the economic crisis, Obama was a sure thing.   Nobody is talking about the “Bradley” effect this year.   That was a big deal in 2008, a belief that people tell pollsters they’ll vote for Obama because they don’t want to appear racist.  That led many on the right to discount Obama’s lead, sort of like the  “skewed polls” this year.

This year is much different.   The election is closer, the dynamic is uncertain.   Yet a lot remains the same – polls give information but can be used to mislead.  The Drudge Report often seems to be occupying an alternate universe.   And it’ll be an intense final days with rumors, hopes and fears on all sides causing partisans to experience a full range of emotions.   Get ready for the ride!

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