The Filter: Oct. 24, 2008

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

(Jonathan Martin, Mike Allen and John F. Harris, Politico)

With despair rising even among many of John McCain’s own advisors, influential Republicans inside and outside his campaign are engaged in an intense round of blame-casting and rear-covering—-much of it virtually conceding that an Election Day rout is likely...The candidate’s strategists in recent days have become increasingly vocal in interviews and conference calls about what they call unfair news media coverage and Barack Obama’s wide financial advantage — both complaints laying down a post-election storyline for why their own efforts proved ineffectual. These public comments offer a whiff of an increasingly acrid behind-the-scenes GOP meltdown—a blame game played out through not-for-attribution comments to reporters that operatives know will find their way into circulation. At his Northern Virginia headquarters, some McCain aides are already speaking of the campaign in the past tense. Morale, even among some of the heartiest and most loyal staffers, has plummeted... One well-connected Republican in the private sector was shocked to get calls and resumes in the past few days from what he said were senior McCain aides – a breach of custom for even the worst-off campaigns... “The cake is baked,” agreed a former McCain strategist. “We’re entering the finger-pointing and positioning-for-history part of the campaign. It’s every man for himself now.”

(Adam Nagourney, New York Times)

Senator John McCain woke Thursday morning to what has become a fairly common greeting in these tough last weeks of his campaign. A raft of polls showing him well behind. Early post-mortems on his candidacy. Even Republicans speaking of him in the past tense. But is it really over? As Mr. McCain enters this closing stretch, his aides — as well as some outside Republicans and even a few Democrats — argue that he still has a viable path to victory... Even the most hearty of the McCain supporters acknowledge that it will not be easy, and there are a considerable number of Republicans who say, off the record, that the 2008 cake is baked. At this point in the campaign, Mr. McCain’s hopes of victory may rest on events over which he simply does not have control. Still, there do seem to be enough question marks hovering over this race that it is not quite time for Mr. McCain to ride his bus back to Arizona.

(Dan Balz, Washington Post)

For John McCain, the batch of battleground state polls released yesterday brought almost universally bad news. The Republican nominee's path to the presidency is now extremely precarious and may depend on something unexpected taking control of a contest that appears to have swung hard toward Barack Obama since the end of the debates. McCain's advisers acknowledge that his way back is difficult, but they maintain that there is a way. It requires a combination of smart campaigning, traction for his arguments and what the McCain team hopes will be fears among the electorate at the prospect of a Democrat in the White House with expanded Democratic majorities in Congress. McCain plans in the closing days to focus on taxes and spending, national security, and what one adviser called "the perils of an Obama presidency with no checks and balances." The campaign will point to congressional Democrats' claims about the agenda they plan in the new Congress, Obama's "spread the wealth" remark to "Joe the Plumber" and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s comment that his running mate would be tested internationally early in his presidency.

(Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal)

Amid two wars, a deep economic crisis, a fractured base, too much cynicism, and a campaign with the wind not at its back but head on in its face—with all of that working against Mr. McCain, 43% of the American people say, right now, in these polls, they are for him. And there are a significant number of undecideds. Four years ago about 122 million people voted. Forty-three percent of 122 million is 52 million people, more or less. A huge group, one too varied to generalize about because it includes flinty elderly Republicans from New England, home-schooling mothers in Ohio, libertarianish Republicans in Colorado, suburban patriots outside the big cities, and many others. They are the beating heart of conservatism, and to watch most television is to forget they exist, for they are not shown much, except at rallies. But they are there, and this is a center-right nation, and many of them have been pushing hard against the age for 40 years now, and more. For some time they have sensed that something large and stable is being swept away, maybe has been swept away, and yet you still have to fight for it. They will not give up without a fight, and they will make their way to the polls. And they will be a rock-hard challenge to Mr. Obama if he wins.

(Lois "No Relation" Romano, Washington Post)

Two months after Sarah Palin joined the GOP ticket, and four months after Hillary Clinton ended her quest for the presidency, 2008 is turning out to be a transformative year for women in politics, according to women leaders across the political spectrum. As Election Day nears, it's clear that gender was not a disqualifying factor for either Clinton or Palin. Voters who turned against them did so for other reasons, just as they do with male candidates. Women from both parties also perceive with satisfaction a heightened emphasis on their issues in this year's race. Palin's candidacy has sent a jolt through traditional liberal women's organizations as she tries to redefine feminism, suggesting that the old movement has become detached from the hockey moms Palin champions. The mother of five and former beauty queen is the antithesis of the bra-burning militant libbers of the '60s, and she is adamantly antiabortion. Yet Palin has grabbed the feminist label vigorously and has been hailed as one by the thousands of supportive women who wave their lipstick tubes at her rallies.

(Jim Rutenberg and Marjorie Connelly, New York Times)

Senator Barack Obama is showing surprising strength among portions of the political coalition that returned George W. Bush to the White House four years ago, a cross section of support that, if it continues through Election Day, would exceed that of Bill Clinton in 1992, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News polls. Underscoring his increasing strength in the final phase of the campaign, Mr. Obama led Mr. McCain among groups that voted for President Bush four years ago: those with incomes greater than $50,000 a year; married women; suburbanites and white Catholics. He is also competitive among white men, a group that has not voted for a Democrat over a Republican since 1972, when pollsters began surveying people after they voted. Of potential concern for Mr. Obama’s strategists, however, a third of voters surveyed say they know someone who does not support Mr. Obama because he is black.

(Rich Lowry, National Review)

Clinton had earned the right in 1992 to run as a “new kind of Democrat” by confronting liberal interest groups in the primaries. Obama simply showed up the day after he won the nomination and declared himself a centrist. Everything since has been couched in reassuring, moderate terms in brilliant salesmanship worthy of the best minds at the American Marketing Association... Obama’s tax cut for 95 percent of working people is one of the reasons he has a 2-1 advantage on “helping the middle class,” according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. Obama’s proposal doesn’t actually cut income or payroll tax rates. Overall, John McCain’s proposal cuts taxes more than Obama for typical families. But Obama sounds more zealous about middle-class tax cuts. On health care, Obama has attacked McCain’s proposal on conservative grounds, claiming it would trash the current system of employer-provided insurance and raise taxes. As for his own proposal? It’s the centrist alternative. His advertising contrasts two approaches to health care — one government-run, the other allowing insurance companies to run amok. “Barack Obama says both extremes are wrong,” says the ad.

(Mike Baker, Associated Press)

Blacks are already surging to the polls in parts of the South, according to initial figures from states that encourage early voting - a striking though still preliminary sign of how strongly they will turn out nationwide for Barack Obama in his campaign to become the first African-American president. There have been predictions all year of a record black turnout for Obama. The first actual figures suggest that wasn't just talk: In North Carolina, blacks make up 31 percent of early voters so far, even though they're just 21 percent of the population and made up only 19 percent of state's overall 2004 vote. Roughly 36 percent of the early voters are black in Georgia, outpacing their 30 percent proportion of the state's population and their 25 percent share of the 2004 vote... Democrats are outvoting the GOP by a margin of 2.5-to-1 in North Carolina, where early voting has been under way for a week. That's roughly double the margin from 2004. More than 210,000 blacks who are registered as Democrats have cast early ballots in the Tar Heel State--compared with roughly 174,000 registered Republicans overall. Four years ago, the number of GOP early and absentee voters was more than double that of black Democrats.

(Jurek Martin, Financial Times)

James Carville once famously said: “Show me a candidate who depends on the youth vote and I’ll show you a loser.” Historically, Bill Clinton’s election strategist was dead right, but the dictum may not apply this year. Just as the colour of his skin could conceivably deny Barack Obama the White House, the support of those under the age of 30 could put him there with room to spare. There are 44m young Americans of the so-called “millennial generation” eligible to vote – about 21 per cent of the electorate. But it is not easy to get a handle on how many of them will cast a ballot. The Student Public Interest Research Group, an activist organisation, has gone so far as to predict a 70 per cent turnout, compared with just under 50 per cent of 2004. That may be high, but polls by Gallup and others all suggest it will split at least 60-40 in Barack Obama’s favour... One Harvard pollster estimates conservatively that if the Democrat wins the youth vote “big”, it could translate into an extra 1-2 percentage points in the overall electorate. That remains to be seen. Just as citizens shy away from telling pollsters they harbour racial prejudice – if they do, they would never vote for a black Democratic candidate anyway – so pollsters find it hard to get an accurate handle on the youth vote, both in its preferences and the likelihood of its casting a ballot on November 4.

(Matthew Kaminski, Wall Street Journal)

Mr. McCain probably can't win the election without Pennsylvania. And both campaigns think it will be decided in the four "collar counties" around Philadelphia. Of them, Bucks (pop. 625,000) is a microcosm of the state. Rural northern "upper Bucks" is socially conservative, clinging -- as Mr. Obama famously said this year -- to guns and religion; the center around Doylestown is fiscally conservative and socially liberal, once dominated by Republican "moderates"; and "lower" Bucks around Bristol is blue-collar, formerly industrial, depressed, and tends to vote Democratic. The "maverick" John McCain was supposed to play well with the independents and middle-of-the-road Democrats and Republicans in places like Bucks County. Hillary Clinton beat Mr. Obama by 34 points here, and carried 60 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. President Bush did miserably in the Philly suburbs in 2004, yet lost the state by a mere 2.5 points. To make this state red, the McCain camp figured: Start with the burbs... It hasn't gone Mr. McCain's way. As Wall Street tumbled, Barack Obama expanded a two point lead into double digits -- 10.5 points as of yesterday, according to RealClearPolitics. The one available poll on suburban Philadelphia showed the Democrat up comfortably in all four counties.

(Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic)

If she wants the job, she's easily the frontrunner to become THE voice of the angry Right in the Wilderness.  She is a favorite of talk radio and Fox News conservatives, and speaks their language as only a true member of the club can. (Her recent Limbaugh interview was full of dog whistles that any Dittohead would recognize. Including her actual use of the word ditto.) Palin will have plenty of time to become fluent on national issues.  She will easily benefit from the low expectations threshhold, and will probably even garner positive reviews from the MSM types who disparage her today... With Republicans completely out of power, and President Obama running what is likely to be a bigger government that spends more on social programs, Republicans are likely to run the most anti-government, anti-Washington campaign this side of Barry Goldwater.  Again, Palin is perfectly positioned for this campaign. Republicans tend to pick the next guy in line. Strangely enough, the next guy in line is now Sarah Palin, by virtue of her being the VP nominee this year.  She will have the benefit of being both an outsider candidate and the natural heir to the nomination; indeed, the only candidate who will have experience in a general election campaign.