The Filter: Oct. 20, 2008

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

THE POWELL ENDORSEMENT: HURTS MCCAIN, HELPS OBAMA
(Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic)

In that order, I think. (1) It deprives McCain of a day to win the news cycle. There are sixteen left. (2) Powell is a "man who I admire as much as anyone in the world," McCain has said. He was an informal adviser to the campaign early on. And the content of the endorsement acknowledges what McCain's accomplished, studies it, and judges that it is insufficient for the modern world. (Powell is closer to McCain than Obama on Iraq.)  McCain would be a maverick, Powell says, but America needs a transformation figure. (3) McCain might take this as a personal rejection, and he might wear it on his sleeve. (4) Powell is a culturally individuated African American hero; to the extent that there remain white voters who have inchoate worries about Obama's race, it helps to have him associated with a man whose race they've already gotten over.  I do think this cohort of people is tiny. 

DEMOCRATS SEE OPPORTUNITY IN OUTER SUBURBS' TROUBLES
(Alec MacGillis, Washington Post)

For all the emphasis on Sen. Barack Obama's chances with working-class voters in declining Rust Belt cities, the biggest swing vote in the presidential election is likely to be in outer suburban communities, where Democrats hope to capitalize on economic unease and demographic shifts to overturn traditional Republican strengths. Republicans have long dominated in the fast-growing exurbs, which President Bush won by an even larger margin in 2004 than in 2000. But Democrats made inroads in these areas in the 2006 congressional elections, part of a broader trend that has seen the party gain among college-educated suburban professionals. And this year, many exurbs that grew rapidly in the past decade are being hit particularly hard by the economic downturn. These exurbs, home to an increasing share of the electorate, will help decide who wins states such as Florida, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada, which are emerging as battlegrounds in the final weeks of the election while Republican chances of reclaiming industrial states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have waned. Nowhere, though, are the exurbs more relevant than they are in Virginia, where Loudoun and Prince William counties are likely to be pivotal.

THE RIGHT'S CLASS WAR
(John Heilemann, New York)

With the prospect of defeat for John McCain growing more likely every day, the GOP destined to see its numbers reduced in both the House and Senate, and the Republican brand debased to the point of bankruptcy, the conservative intelligentsia is factionalized and feuding, criminating and recriminating, in a way that few of its members can recall in their political lifetimes. Populists attack Establishmentarians. Neocons assail theocons. And virtually everyone has something harsh to say about the party’s standard-bearer. Election Day may still be two weeks away, but already the idea-merchants of the right have formed a circular firing squad. When the weapons of choice shift from pistols to Uzis after November 4, the ensuing massacre will be for Democrats a source of political opportunity, not to mention endless entertainment. But for Republicans it will be a necessary passage toward either the revival or reinvention of conservatism. Nobody serious on the right doubts that the overhaul is at once required and bound to be arduous—but it may take longer and prove even bloodier than anyone now imagines.

MCCAIN IS NO SALESMAN ON TAX PROPOSALS
(Clive Crook, Financial Times)

How is it... that Mr McCain has been so thoroughly outmanoeuvred on tax policy? Both candidates have offered complex tax proposals. Proliferating alternative baselines (with or without the extension of the Bush tax cuts, with or without a “patch” for the alternative minimum tax, and so forth) deepen the confusion. Unable to fathom the details, voters are left to weigh the competing slogans. Mr Obama promises to cut taxes for 95 per cent of working families. Mr McCain says the rich need a tax cut, too. Guess who wins that argument. Here is a fact you might not have noticed. It certainly seems to have slipped by most Americans. The typical US household would get a bigger tax cut under Mr McCain’s proposals than under Mr Obama’s. I know a few politicians who could do something with that. Broadly speaking, Mr McCain proposes to leave the Bush tax cuts in place. Mr Obama proposes a big increase in taxes on people earning more than $250,000 (€187,000, £145,000) a year, in order to cut taxes and increase subsidies at the bottom; for the middle, he too would mostly keep the Bush tax code. Middle-income households do come out slightly ahead under the Obama plan – but only if you leave out the effect of Mr McCain’s healthcare proposal. The question is, why would you do that?

JOHN MCCAIN AND AN ARMY OF JOES
(Byron York, National Review)

In recent days, the Joe the Plumber phenomenon has taken on a deeper meaning for McCain’s audiences, for two reasons. First, he is a symbol of their belief that Barack Obama is going to raise their taxes, regardless of what Obama says about hitting up only those taxpayers who make more than $250,000 a year. They know Wurzelbacher doesn’t make that much, and they know they don’t make that much. And they’re not suspicious because they believe that someday they will make $250,000, and thus face higher taxes. No, they just don’t believe Obama right now. If he’s elected, they say, he’ll eventually come looking for taxpayers who make well below a quarter-million dollars, and that will include them. The second reason Joe the Plumber resonates with the crowds is what his experience says about the media. Everybody here seems acutely aware of the once-over Wurzelbacher received from the press after his chance encounter with Obama was reported, first on Fox News, and then mentioned by McCain at last week’s presidential debate... As the people here in Woodbridge saw it, Joe was a guy who asked Barack Obama an inconvenient question — and for his troubles suddenly found himself under investigation by the media.  

FULL SPEED AHEAD FOR OBAMA
(David Ignatius, Washington Post)
Despite Barack Obama's big lead in the polls, he hasn't yet made a decisive case for how he would govern in this time of crisis. His demeanor is cool and calm, his intellect razor-sharp, and if smart guys were automatically good leaders, it would be game, set and match for Obama. But leadership is something more mysterious, and it comes in odd packages -- the brooding, depressive Abraham Lincoln; the patrician Franklin Roosevelt; the genial ex-actor Ronald Reagan; the priapic good ol' old boy Bill Clinton. What is inside the Obama package? We still need to know more. Over the next two weeks, Obama should help the country visualize what his administration would look like. He should show how he would step up to the economic crisis, an unfolding disaster that we compare so often to the Great Depression that the analogy is losing its horrific impact. What sorts of people would Obama appoint to his Cabinet? How would he deal with two wars, as commander in chief rather than as political campaigner?

SAFETY IN NUMBERS? POLL-DRIVEN PRESS GOES OUT ON A LIMB
(Howard Kurtz, Washington Post)

The network maps are bathed in blue, the pundits contemplating a landslide, the conservative columnists preparing for the indignities of an Obama administration. With the numbers breaking Barack Obama's way, it's hardly surprising that poll-driven journalists are suggesting, insinuating or flat-out forecasting a Democratic victory. But could they affect the outcome? And what if they turn out to be wrong about John McCain being toast?  "One piece of press bias is they don't like losers," says CBS correspondent Jeff Greenfield. "When the whiff of defeat surrounds a campaign, the press picks up on it the way sharks smell blood in the water, and then it becomes a feedback loop."... For all the complaints that the media swoon over Obama -- he has garnered editorial endorsements in recent days from The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times -- journalists are ultimately driven by electoral math. If McCain were to make a comeback in the almighty polls, the narrative would abruptly change. If the numbers don't move, the chatter about an Obama presidency will grow louder, perhaps drowning out the campaign's final days.

MCCAIN AND OBAMA GET READY FOR THE WHITE HOUSE
(Peter Nicholas and Tom Hamburger, Los Angeles Times)
Even as they plot their paths to victory, Barack Obama and John McCain are thinking past election day, enlisting advisors to quietly vet potential Cabinet secretaries, devise a governing strategy and assemble the rudiments of a new White House. Preparing for the presidency is something the two campaigns are loath to talk about. Neither wants to appear presumptuous to voters who won't pick a winner for two weeks. But with the economy teetering and the nation at war, both sides are planning for a transition that students of the presidency say is the most consequential since 1861, on the eve of the Civil War."I don't mean to be hysterical, but this is the toughest transition faced by any president since [Abraham] Lincoln," said Paul Light, a professor at New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. "There is very little wiggle room. There's the fiscal crisis, we are in a couple of wars and there is international tension." Of the two candidates, Obama's preparations to take over Jan. 20 are further along. People close to him say that a kind of Democratic government-in-exile is laying detailed plans to smoothly take control should he prevail.

W. VA. POLLS TIGHTEN, RACE TAKES BACK SEAT
(Ben Smith, Politico)

West Virginia isn't exactly a battleground state. After Obama was shellacked here by Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary — the southern coal counties voted for her by margins as high as 8-to-1 — both his campaign and John McCain's assumed he'd lose it. And with good reason: West Virginia represents a cross-section of the voters who have been hardest for Obama to reach. It's among the oldest, whitest and least-educated states in America. It was where reporters found white Democrats who freely use the N-word and swore they'd never vote for Obama.  But maybe the campaigns and the press misread the depth of prejudice in West Virginia. Or maybe, since the May primary, something has changed here. The state is also a historic Democratic stronghold, if one where Democrats sometimes put the words "NRA member" beneath their names on campaign signs. And four recent public polls suggested the race here has closed from a double-digit McCain lead to a slender one. The Obama campaign responded last week by buying airtime in Clarksburg, in the center of the state, the sole media market that doesn't already see television ads intended for neighboring Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

INTENSE COURTING OF COLORADO
(Karen E. Crummy, Denver Post)

The Arizona senator, saddled with an unpopular president and a tumbling economy, finds himself in the precarious position of trailing Democrat Barack Obama by an average of 6 percentage points in a state that has backed only one Democratic presidential candidate in the past 40 years. His running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is campaigning today in Colorado Springs, Loveland and Grand Junction.  The political climate, along with a number of other factors, including Obama's steady performances in three debates and McCain's choice of conservative Palin, is dragging McCain down in Colorado, some political observers say, primarily because of the state's moderate, unaffiliated voters, who now narrowly edge out registered Republicans... Additionally, the GOP is suffering from a huge voter-registration loss. The 180,000-voter edge Republicans had over Democrats four years ago has whittled down to fewer than 50,000, according to registration numbers through September. Whether new or unaffiliated voters — who rarely lean toward a candidate en masse — turn out for Obama remains to be seen. But the Illinois senator has 51 offices in the state devoted to get-out-the-vote efforts, whereas McCain has 12.

REAL AMERICA
(James Joyner, Outside the Beltway) 

At the macro level, there’s a longstanding scorn between these “Americas” that goes back to the days of the Founding Fathers.  Whether it was Hamiltonians vs. Jeffersonians, North vs. South, Country Club vs. Cloth Coat, or Blue vs. Red, the former have tended to look down on the latter while the latter resented the former.  Successful politicians have long mastered pushing the buttons to use these sentiments to their advantage. However real the differences are, however, fanning the flames of resentment is a dangerous game for those aspiring to the presidency (or vice presidency).  Not only is it now impossible to play it and not get caught in the age of blogs and cell phone videocameras and YouTube — it brought down the very promising career of George Allen, for example, with the Macaca incident — but it’s impossible to govern effectively after waging that sort of campaign.  This is especially true now that campaigning for office is a never-ending cycle and the concepts of a “honeymoon” or a “governing mandate” now seem quaint.
 

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