The Filter: Oct. 21, 2008

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

(Michael Crowley, New Republic)

Leve and his ilk are proliferating because an unprecedented demand exists for the information they peddle. An anxious, politically savvy public has developed a compulsive need to know precisely where the presidential contest stands at any given moment. The profusion of poll numbers in turn fuels the public's hunger for more definitive, or more reassuring, polls--a cycle made all the more relentless by a panoply of websites, such as RealClearPolitics and Talking Points Memo, that post every last number almost in real time. This new, frenetic age of polling has not necessarily led to more empirical certainty. The very instantaneousness of polls like Leve's threatens to shape perceptions as much as record them. And the deluge of polling data has just given partisans another opportunity to cherry-pick facts and impugn their rivals. In this besieged environment, even pollsters themselves fight bitterly over the best way to measure public opinion and whether the likes of Jay Leve have it exactly right--or very, very wrong.

(Meghan Thee, New York Times)

As voters have gotten to know Senator Barack Obama, they have warmed up to him, with more than half, 53 percent, now saying they have a favorable impression of him and 33 percent saying they have an unfavorable view. But as voters have gotten to know Senator John McCain, they have not warmed, with only 36 percent of voters saying they view him favorably while 45 percent view him unfavorably... The percentage of those who hold a favorable opinion of Mr. Obama is up 10 points since last month. Opinion of Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Obama’s running mate, is also up, to 50 percent last weekend from 36 percent in September. In contrast, favorable opinion of Mr. McCain remained stable, and unfavorable opinion rose to 45 percent now from 35 percent in September. Mrs. Palin’s negatives are up, to 41 percent now from 29 percent in September. Mr. Obama’s favorability is the highest for a presidential candidate running for a first term in the last 28 years of Times/CBS polls. Mrs. Palin’s negative rating is the highest for a vice-presidential candidate as measured by The Times and CBS News. 

(Mark J. Penn, Politico)

The presidential campaign’s homestretch is looking a lot more like President Bill Clinton’s 1996 solid reelection over Republican nominee Bob Dole than like Ronald Reagan’s late-breaking 1980 landslide over incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Democratic standard-bearer Barack Obama appears headed toward victory over John McCain. But a campaign’s closing couple of weeks can be unexpectedly treacherous. Just ask John F. Kerry and Al Gore. In 2000, Vice President Gore’s popularity had begun to dip after the Democratic National Convention, when his populist people-vs.-the-powerful theme came off to much of the electorate as a call for higher taxes. During the last three weeks of the campaign, he lost late-breaking voters almost 2-to-1... This year, Democrats have considerably more reason for optimism about closing strong.

(Matthew Mosk, Washington Post)

Unease about lingering tensions within the Democratic Party and worry that an Internet drive would underperform infused Sen. Barack Obama's campaign with an urgency that led to the most voracious one-month fundraising drive in American politics... Obama's record-breaking month is primarily a story about the explosive fundraising power of the Internet, and the expanding role of regular people in financing modern presidential campaigns. But it also underscores the importance of the powerful and well-connected, who accounted for about a third of the money that poured into Obama's coffers. Raised in $2,300 increments at VIP receptions, that money remains a foundation of the fundraising effort. A review of the Democrat's schedule shows that he dramatically ramped up the pace of his high-dollar fundraising events in September, such as the Barbra Streisand concert that helped him raise $9 million in a matter of hours. The campaign also dispatched a team of surrogates that included billionaire Warren Buffett, former Treasury secretary Robert E. Rubin and Caroline Kennedy, all of whom could tap Rolodexes full of contacts who could write large checks. 

(Gerald F. Seib, Wall Street Journal)

Sen. McCain's hope has to be that the same giant force that has been moving the campaign in his Democratic rival's favor -- the economy -- can somehow be used to create an opening. To see why that's the case, consider the arc of this race. It was very close until the confidence-shattering crisis in the financial markets struck in mid-September. That worked to the benefit of Sen. Obama's argument that something is fundamentally unsound about current economic policies, and it just as quickly undercut Sen. McCain's strength on national security. At that point, the McCain campaign began to see an erosion of support in two key constituencies: middle- and upper-class white men -- members of the "investor class" deeply shaken by the market plunge -- and senior citizens, unnerved by the erosion of their nest eggs. Now, what the McCain camp most needs is market calm until Election Day, to ease jittery nerves and allow such constituencies to recall the reasons they leaned toward Sen. McCain in the first place: his experience and his profile as a potential commander in chief. Market calm, then, is necessary -- and with Monday's stock-market rally may be within reach -- but it probably isn't sufficient. What the McCain camp also needs is an argument that can move other voters. That, McCain advisers hope, is the tax argument.

(Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times)

In the five years of her collegiate career, spanning four universities in three states, Palin left behind few traces. "Looking at this dynamic personality now, it mystifies me that I wouldn't remember her," said Jim Fisher, Palin's journalism instructor at the University of Idaho, where she graduated with a bachelor of science degree in journalism in 1987. Palin, he said, took his public affairs reporting class, an upper-division course limited to 15 students. "It's the funniest damn thing," Fisher said. "No one can recall her."... Indeed, interviews with a dozen professors yielded not a single snippet of a memory. Most were perplexed and frustrated that they could offer no insight into a woman who has become their most famous former student. Only a few classmates recalled her, and those with the strongest memories were people she had grown up with in Alaska... The former classmates who do recall her paint a portrait of a young woman who, like many freshmen, went from hometown stardom to college obscurity. Friends described her as a serious, unassuming student who showed only brief flashes of the outsized political personality that would one day emerge.  

(Rich Lowry, National Review)

Powell’s reasons for swinging to Obama were a watery stew of all the regnant clichés about the campaign... On Meet the Press, he regretted that the Republican Party “has moved even further to the right.” Even if this is true — the Bush administration that Powell served piled up massive spending even before semi-nationalizing banks — it’s an odd brief against John McCain. McCain has never been a conservative crusader, certainly not since his 2000 presidential run. Powell has endorsed two other presidential candidates in his post-military career, Bob Dole and George W. Bush. McCain is certainly less conservative than Bush, and it’s a jump ball with Dole. While Republicans tolerate the non-ideological McCain, Democrats nominated a presidential candidate who catered to the party’s base in the primaries and whose election would vastly empower the relentlessly partisan congressional duo of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. The moderate, sensible Powell is willing to take a flier on a unified Democratic government that will represent a drastic leftward lurch.

(Eugene Robinson, Washington Post)

As the highest-profile Republican to defect to the enemy camp, Powell knew that his endorsement would create a huge stir. What I found fascinating was how he framed it more as a set of reasons to vote against the McCain-Palin ticket than a set of reasons to vote for Obama and Joe Biden. In talking about the Wall Street meltdown and the economic crisis, for example, Powell spoke of how McCain's herky-jerky response made it seem that he "didn't have a complete grasp" of what was going on. Powell went on to praise Obama's "steadiness" -- but mentioned nothing in particular that Obama actually did. To those who would say he is only supporting Obama as a fellow African-American, Powell pointed out that if this were the criterion he could have made his endorsement months ago. Much more important, I think, is the fact that Powell is a moderate Republican who listens to all this innuendo about terrorism and all this rhetoric equating the income tax with socialism and wonders what in the world has happened to his once-grand old party.

(Alexander Burns, Politico)

Voters in Reno, Nevada’s Washoe County prefer Obama over Sen. John McCain by a double-digit margin, 50 percent to 40 percent. A previous Politico/Insider Advantage survey, taken October 9, showed the race deadlocked in Washoe with Obama ahead of McCain, 46 percent to 45 percent. In Wake County, N.C., home to Raleigh and its suburbs, Obama leads McCain by nine points, 52 percent to 43 percent. As in Washoe, this new result represents a turn toward the Democratic nominee: Politico’s last survey of Wake County Oct. 9 had Obama on top by six points, 50 percent to 44 percent. President George W. Bush won both these counties in 2000 and 2004. In his second presidential bid, Bush won Wake by a thin, 51 percent to 49 percent margin, and bested Sen. John F. Kerry in Washoe, 51 percent to 47 percent. As the second-most populous counties in their respective states, Wake and Washoe are critical to McCain’s chances. Despite Obama’s lead in these areas, both Nevada and North Carolina remain competitive at the statewide level according to the new Politico/InsiderAdvantage poll.

(Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times)

It is through voters like Ms. McCoy, who moved to North Carolina eight years ago, that Mr. Obama has achieved a milestone: He is now running neck and neck with his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, in the state, and is even slightly ahead in some polls. This once-red state is now a raging battleground, along with a few others where Mr. Obama has sought to expand his electoral map... No Democratic presidential candidate has won North Carolina since Jimmy Carter did so in 1976. The state has long been a bastion of cultural conservatism; it was in Greensboro last week that Ms. Palin said she loved visiting the “pro-America” parts of the country. But this is a new landscape, even from four years ago, when President Bush defeated Senator John Kerry (and his running mate, John Edwards, of North Carolina) by 12 percentage points in the state. The turnabout can be traced to an influx of new voters and a change in demographics; a slowing of the state’s economy and the collapse of the nation’s financial system; Mr. Obama’s extensive ground organization, huge financial advantage and amount spent on television (seven to one over Mr. McCain); the state’s large population of blacks and students; and Mr. McCain’s neglect of the state.

(Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times)

Two days after Barack Obama drew 100,000 supporters to a rally in St. Louis, John McCain attracted about 2,500 people to a field in this nearby suburb Monday, a visible symbol of the challenge the Republican nominee faces in this crucial state... Missouri is the ultimate presidential bellwether: It has voted with the winning party all but once in the last century. Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, had pulled his TV ads and essentially given up at this point four years ago. This year, Missouri is suffering its worst unemployment in 17 years, and voters harbor a deep suspicion of the $700-billion bailout of financial institutions. Obama's campaign also appears to be swamping McCain's effort in the state. The Democrat has opened 40 offices, compared with 16 for McCain and the state GOP. Obama also is spending twice as much on TV ads, officials say. More importantly, perhaps, a Democratic registration drive has added about 250,000 new voters in St. Louis and Kansas City. Campaign aides expect McCain to run up a lead in the state's rural southwest, a strongly conservative area. Both sides are fighting for the densely populated suburbs of St. Louis and Kansas City that will decide the state.

(Larry Eichel, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Despite polls showing him trailing Democrat Barack Obama by double digits in Pennsylvania, John McCain continued to treat the state as if the whole election depended on it. Yesterday, his wife, Cindy, made four stops in Philadelphia and Yardley, speaking at two rallies, visiting a hospital, and meeting the mothers of men and women in the military. Today, the Republican nominee has three appearances in Pennsylvania, starting with a morning rally in Bensalem. He made two visits to the Philadelphia suburbs last week, and running mate Sarah Palin was in Lancaster over the weekend. "It sure doesn't sound like a campaign that's pulling up stakes," said Chris Borick, a political scientist and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. All the McCain activity is happening in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 1.2 million, double from four years ago; where Obama, flush with cash, is outspending McCain on television by several orders of magnitude; and where the Democrats have an organizational advantage.