The Filter: Nov. 3, 2008... Election Eve Edition

A round-up of this morning's must-read stories.

(Frank Bruni, New York Times)

Will one candidate win by millions, or lose by thousands? If there is a clear victor, will he be the first black American ever elected to the presidency, or the oldest American ever to win a first term? We don’t need to know the answers to be certain of this much: no matter the outcome, it will be the climax of one of the most extraordinary presidential elections in this nation’s 232-year history, and “the first” and “the oldest” capture only some of what has made it so remarkable. Whether judged by the milestones reached, the paradigms challenged, the passions stirred or simply the numbers — the 85 percent of Americans who believe the country is on the wrong track, or the record-demolishing $640 million fund-raising mark that Barack Obama passed by mid-October — the election of 2008 actually warrants the sorts of adjectives and phrases that are often just journalistic tics: epochal, pivotal, historic, once-in-a-lifetime.

(E.J. Dionne, Washington Post)

A good politician triumphs by adapting to the times and taking advantage of opportunities as they come. A great politician anticipates openings others don't see and creates possibilities that were not there before. John McCain might have been the second kind of politician, tried to be the first and enters Election Day at a steep disadvantage. Barack Obama certainly seized the opportunities created by President Bush's failures and the country's profound discontent, which only deepened after the economic crash. But by creating a new social movement, new forms of political organization, and a sense of excitement and possibility not felt in politics for three decades, he is bidding to become one of the country's most consequential leaders... If any candidate's recent past stands as a warning against premature obituaries, it is McCain's. But there seems to be an inexorable quality to Obama's rise this year because he is the first truly 21st-century figure in American politics. He is the innovator who has set the standard for the next political era.

(John Dickerson, Slate)

If Barack Obama wins the election, it will be historic. And if he loses, it will be pretty historic, too: It would mark the biggest collective error in the history of the media and political establishment. An Obama loss would mean the majority of pundits, reporters and analysts were wrong. Pollsters would have to find a new line of work, since Obama has been ahead in all 159 polls taken in the last six weeks. The massive crowds that have regularly turned out to see Obama would turn out to have meant nothing. This collective failure of elites would provide such a blast of schadenfreude that Republicans like Rush Limbaugh would be struck speechless (another historic first). This situation lends a feeling of unreality to the proceedings as we begin to measure the time until Election Day in hours. It is the elephant on the campaign plane. No one is letting on. Journalists aren't supposed to. Plus, we've been wrong so often, and politics can be so unpredictable, it would be dumb to say that Obama is going to win big.

(Jim Tankersley, Chicago Tribune)

As the presidential race enters its final weekend after two years of battle, 's best chance for a history-defying comeback rests in the greatest of electoral unknowns: voter turnout. To win on Tuesday, analysts and polls suggest, the Republican nominee must win nearly all the remaining undecided voters in key swing states and peel a large chunk of "soft" supporters from Democratic rival Barack Obama. Then he must hope that his supporters vote in overwhelming numbers, and that more Obama supporters than expected stay home. It would be a daunting task in any election, but it's particularly the case this year, when analysts predict the largest voter turnout ever, perhaps 130 million, and the biggest percentage of eligible voters casting ballots in a century. 

(T.W. Farnham and Brad Haynes, Wall Street Journal)

The national and state Democratic parties are spending far more heavily than their Republican counterparts on field operations, after years of ceding the advantage in ground-level organizing to the Republican voter-turnout machine. Finance records show Democrats have hired five to 10 times more paid field staff in swing states than the Republicans. Democrats have set up 770 offices nationwide, including in some of the most Republican areas of traditionally "red" states -- like one in Goshen, Ind., a manufacturing town with a population of about 30,000. It is the seat of Elkhart County, which voted for President George W. Bush in 2004 by more than 40 percentage points. By comparison, Republicans have about 370 offices nationwide. The focus on the ground-game is a change from past election cycles, when the Democratic party's prime objective was getting as many broadcast ads on the air as possible. In recent campaigns, Democrats outsourced their ground organization to outside groups, such as labor unions and liberal activists.

(Shailagh Murray, Juliet Eilperin and Robert Barnes, Washington Post)

The waning hours of the longest presidential campaign in history elicited a fresh round of stinging attacks from Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain and their supporters on Sunday, a departure from the positive messages that candidates normally revert to before an election. The two candidates kept swinging at each other as their campaigns focused on a handful of states that will determine the election. Obama cut an ad that used Vice President Cheney's endorsement of McCain to reinforce his central argument that his rival represents a third term of the unpopular Bush administration. Republicans in Pennsylvania brought back the controversial comments of Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., despite McCain's admonition that he should not be used as a political weapon, and the campaign unleashed robo-calls that employed the withering dismissal that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made of Obama's experience when the two were competing against each other in the Democratic primaries.

(Jonathan Martin, Politico)

It is sure to be one of the most hotly debated questions among Republicans and political observers in the weeks ahead should McCain not come from behind to win on Tuesday. Conversations with a number of veteran GOP consultants indicate that using Wright may have helped McCain with one set of voters — but would have hurt with others and not ultimately proved decisive in a contest subsumed by larger external forces such as the economic crisis and the unpopularity of President Bush and the Republican Party.  “This was a race that was about the economy and about change,” said Stuart Stevens, a longtime GOP adman who worked for Bush’s campaigns. “It really wasn’t about anything else, and all the king’s men couldn’t make it about anything else.”  Because the contest was so shaped by pocketbook concerns, to have focused on anything else would have appeared politically tone deaf, he said.  “In an issue-less election, with the ‘right track’ to the good, maybe you could have,” Stevens observed. “It would have been like showing up with a cricket bat to the Super Bowl — that’s not the game we’re playing.”

(Jeff Zeleny, New York Times)

Whatever emotions or anxiety Mr. Obama feels as his candidacy draws to a close, he displays little of it, either in public appearances or private conversations with his close advisers. The air of confidence he exudes, which some critics take as arrogance, grew in part out of the primary, when he worked to avoid perceptions that he was weak or not ready. But now, he is described by friends as feeling as though he has been thoroughly tested and is prepared to take on the job he has spent 22 months fighting for. Still, it is hard for even those closest to Mr. Obama to fathom what these days are precisely like, even for the unflappable — often inscrutable — senator from Illinois. His world is awash in powerful, conflicting emotions: the realization, presumably, that he may be about to become president; the huge optimism that he has unleashed, evident in the crowds he is drawing (and something he has told aides worries him a bit, given the expectations set for him); the weighty thinking he is gradually giving to how he would staff a government and deal with a transition in such a difficult time. 

(Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times)

No one is suggesting that Mr. McCain is ecstatic that he is behind in the polls or that the cognoscenti, as he puts it, “have written us off.” But in the frantic last days of his nearly two-year second quest for the presidency, Mr. McCain has liberated himself from the irritable, edgy candidate of a month ago. He has, by all appearances, decided he will get to Tuesday by having a good time. His aides say he is relieved that the race is almost over and for the most part out of his hands. He is also buoyed — and obsessed, his staff says — with polls that show the race tightening in some battleground states and allow him hope that he might still have a shot. He is also now in the role that he finds at least familiar, if not comfortable — the scruffy underdog barking at Washington. It was not for nothing that his first stop Thursday was in Defiance, Ohio. “If we were 10 points up, we’d all be a little bit happier,” said Mark Salter, one of Mr. McCain’s closest aides. “But you throw a lot of stuff at the guy, and he fights all the harder.”

(Larry Bartels, Los Angeles Times)

Applied to electoral politics, Condorcet's logic suggests that the electorate as a whole may be much wiser than any individual voter. The only problem is that things may not work so happily. Real voters' errors are quite unlikely to be random and statistically independent, as Condorcet's logic requires. When thousands or millions of voters misconstrue the same relevant fact or are swayed by the same vivid campaign ad, no amount of aggregation will produce the requisite miracle -- individual voters' "errors" will not cancel out in the overall election outcome... This election year, an economic downturn turned into an economic crisis with the dramatic meltdown of major financial institutions. John McCain will be punished at the polls as a result. Whether the current economic distress is really President Bush's fault, much less McCain's, is largely beside the point. Does all of this make voters stupid? No, just human. And thus -- to borrow the title of another popular book by behavioral economist Dan Ariely -- "predictably irrational." That may be bad enough.

(Bob Drogin and Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times) 

ohn McCain has targeted this wealthy area just north of Columbus as one of 15 counties in Ohio where he needs to drive up his vote tally if he is to beat Barack Obama on Tuesday in this must-win state. But on Friday night, only nine volunteers manned the 24 phones in the McCain campaign office. The phone bank began operating on a daily basis just two weeks ago. And since then, only five people have shown up on most weekdays to canvass local neighborhoods.Obama's campaign, in contrast, has flooded this GOP bastion with volunteers. Some canvassers first hit the winding streets of nearby subdivisions in March during the Democratic primary, and they have worked almost nonstop since in search of supporters. Ohio is a battleground in the presidential race, and here's the view on the front line: McCain's get-out-the-vote operation has struggled to build momentum, and it appears outgunned by Obama's.