The Filter: Oct. 27, 2008

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

(David Brooks, New York Times)

McCain shares the progressive conservative instinct. He has shown his sympathy with the striving immigrant and his disgust with the colluding corporatist. He has an untiring reform impulse and a devotion to national service and American exceptionalism. His campaign seemed the perfect vehicle to explain how this old approach applied to a new century with new problems — a century with widening inequality, declining human capital, a fraying social contract, rising entitlement debt, corporate authoritarian regimes abroad and soft corporatist collusion at home. In modernizing this old tradition, some of us hoped McCain would take sides in the debate now dividing the G.O.P. Some Republicans believe the G.O.P. went astray by abandoning its tax-cutting, anti-government principles. They want a return to Reagan (or at least the Reagan of their imaginations). But others want to modernize and widen the party and adapt it to new challenges. Some of us hoped that by reforming his party, which has grown so unpopular, McCain could prove that he could reform the country. But McCain never took sides in this debate and never articulated a governing philosophy, Hamiltonian or any other... As a result, Democrats now control the middle.

(Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny, New York Times)

Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama are heading into the final week of the presidential campaign planning to spend nearly all their time in states that President Bush won last time, testimony to the increasingly dire position of Mr. McCain and his party as Election Day approaches... While some Republicans said they still had hope that Mr. McCain could pull this out, there were signs of growing concern that Mr. McCain and the party were heading for a big defeat that could leave the party weakened for years... His decision to campaign on Sunday in Iowa, a day after Ms. Palin campaigned there, was questioned even by Republicans who noted polls that showed Mr. Obama pulling away there. But it reflected how few options the campaign really has, as poll after poll suggests that Mr. Obama is solidifying his position. Mr. McCain has found relatively small crowds — particularly compared with those that are turning out for Mr. Obama — even as he has campaigned in battleground states. His campaign has become embroiled by infighting, with signs of tension between Mr. McCain’s advisers and Ms. Palin’s staff, and subject to unusual public criticism from other Republicans for how his advisers have handled this race.

(John Heilemann, New York)

The circumstances Obama will confront are infinitely more daunting than those that Clinton faced at the outset of his administration... Although the mounting deficit compelled Clinton to abandon much of the new spending he’d envisioned, the fiscal situation he inherited was nothing like the house of horrors awaiting Obama. Add to that the collapsing real-estate market, the credit crunch, a weak dollar, and rising unemployment, and Obama will find himself staring down the barrel of a downturn so steep and ugly that it could easily consume his whole first term. Oh, and did I forget to mention that the country is at war—in not one but two countries? All too aware that, should he win, these cascading crises will leave Obama with no time to gain his sea legs and terrifyingly little margin for error, he and his people, to a degree few realize, have been planning their transition from campaigning to governing for months with characteristic care and rigor. Like so much about Obama’s historic bid for the presidency, the first few days and weeks and months will be like nothing we have seen before—and all of it grounded in the insight that, mind-boggling as it might sound, winning was the easy part. These are Democrats they’ll be dealing with, after all.

(Albert R. Hunt, Bloomberg News)

On election night in the U.S. there will be an emotional celebration, the likes of which contemporary America has rarely seen, especially if Barack Obama wins. Echoes of the Founding Fathers, and the promise and imperfections of the nation, will reverberate. Even if John McCain pulls an upset, he is a man of such character that he will try to address some of the wrongs perpetrated in his name, while being immortalized as the most resilient Phoenix-like figure in U.S. political history. This is a big election; in very different ways, these are two big men. Yet soon thereafter a sobering reality will hit: This new president inherits the most troubled country, in domestic and foreign policy, of any new leader since Franklin Roosevelt. Fascinating as 2008 has been, neither of these men has educated voters much on the challenges ahead. The tone and substance of the campaign are really no different than six weeks ago, while the world has changed.

(Will Englund, National Journal)

Obama's conduct -- as an organizer, as a Chicago politician, as a U.S. senator, and as a campaigner on a national stage -- provides more than a few clues. Smart but untested, disciplined but low-key, sure of himself but a careful listener, Obama would bring a measure of calm and consideration to the Oval Office. He can flash a brilliant smile, but he is not -- to use Roosevelt's description of Al Smith -- a happy warrior. As it was with Roosevelt, voters haven't flocked to Obama because of his campaign proposals. His supporters want to throw the Republicans out, and they see an intangible leadership quality in him. Roosevelt spelled out his philosophy succinctly (and accurately, as it turned out) in a campaign speech he gave at Oglethorpe University in May 1932. "Take a method and try it," he said. "If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." The voters went for it, on faith. If they elect Obama, that, too, will be on faith. The question is not so much what his positions are, but how he would govern -- and whether he's up to the challenges that the next four years, if not the next four months, are sure to bring.

(Kirk Victor, National Journal)

Although he's no stranger to casinos and enjoys playing craps, when it comes to policy, McCain is not about to simply roll the dice and hope for the best. He has, however, shown himself willing to stick his neck out and make calculated gambles. In fact, he has demonstrated, in this campaign and throughout his political career, a willingness to jump into risky situations and to confront his own party. Even though he often makes speedy decisions that seem, at times, to be impulsive, his friends insist that McCain proceeds only after taking stock of the rewards and perils of a course of action. But that calculation does not end his decision-making. Those who know McCain well invariably describe his strong reliance on his instinctive feel for an issue. What separates him from most other politicians is that the 72-year-old actually seems to relish pushing the envelope and doing the unexpected. While many lawmakers race away from risks, McCain seems to thrive on taking a bold stance.

(Ben Smith, Politico)

Even as John McCain and Sarah Palin scramble to close the gap in the final days of the 2008 election, stirrings of a Palin insurgency are complicating the campaign's already-tense internal dynamics. Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image — even as others in McCain's camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain's decline. "She's lost confidence in most of the people on the plane," said a senior Republican who speaks to Palin, referring to her campaign jet. He said Palin had begun to "go rogue" in some of her public pronouncements and decisions. The emergence of a Palin faction comes as Republicans gird for a battle over the future of their party: Some see her as a charismatic, hawkish conservative leader with the potential, still unrealized, to cross over to attract moderate voters. Anger among Republicans who see Palin as a star and as a potential future leader has boiled over because, they say, they see other senior McCain aides preparing to blame her in the event he is defeated. 

(William Kristol, New York Times)

Situation not-so-excellent. Time for McCain to attack — or, rather, finally to make his case. The heart of that case has to be this: reminding voters that when they elect a president, they’re not just electing a super-Treasury secretary or a higher-level head of Health and Human Services. They’re electing a commander in chief in time of war... McCain could point out that hope is nice and prayer is good. But, he could ask: With respect to our national security, do we really want to elect a president on a hope and a prayer? That has to be the substantive core of his closing argument. But style and tone matter, too. Last week’s New York Times/CBS News poll showed 64 percent of voters saying McCain is spending more time attacking the other candidate than explaining what he would do as president. Just 22 percent say the same of Obama. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. McCain could order his campaign to pull all negative ads, mailers and robocalls. For that matter, he might as well muzzle the campaign. McCain campaign senior staff members now seem to be spending more time criticizing one another than Obama, and more time defending their own reputations than pursuing a McCain-Palin victory.

(Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn, New York Times)

The possibility of a victory by Senator Barack Obama combined with significant Congressional gains by his party could give Democrats extraordinary muscle to pursue an ambitious agenda on health care, taxes, union rights, energy and national security. Democrats, who are within reach of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster in the Senate, would also face high expectations, especially from the party’s more liberal quarters, that could be difficult to meet even with enhanced numbers in the Senate as well as the House. And they would be at risk of overreaching, a tendency that has deeply damaged both parties in similar situations in the past. But given the opportunity and the magnitude of the problems facing the country, Democrats said they would welcome the chance — and the potential accountability — even though winning the White House is no assurance that their initiatives would sail through Congress. And all of the issues on their agenda may be overshadowed by the need for urgent action on the deepening financial crisis.

(Dan Balz, Washington Post)

The conservative forces backing McCain here are energized, and he counts on a get-out-the-vote operation that historically has ranked as one of the Republican Party's top three or four in the nation. But McCain faces an opponent who, with a huge financial war chest, an army of volunteer activists and an aggressive game plan, has put together a campaign that Democratic officials in the state say is superior to anything they have ever seen on their side. Obama has more than 50 offices in Colorado, McCain about a dozen. On Election Day, there may be as many as 100 sites around the state from which the voter turnout operation will be directed. Obama officials will not say how many paid staffers they have in the state, but one knowledgeable Democratic strategist said privately that the number approaches 400... Republicans here give Obama credit for the size of the operation he has put together but argue that with the benefit of experience on their side, they are better equipped to compete in the battle to mobilize and turn out voters -- though they concede that McCain is running in one of the worst environments Republicans have seen in decades.

(Nate Silver, New Republic)

John McCain has made little progress in the West beyond his home state of Arizona. He now trails Obama in Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico, all three of which went to George Bush in 2004. In spite of early declarations from his campaign that he would fight for Washington,Oregon, and perhaps even California, he never eroded Obama's advantage along the Pacific coast, and is no longer trying. Obama has even led in a few polls in Western states as far-flung as North Dakota, Montana, and--before Sarah Palin's entry into the race-a poll in Alaska. The region that had once appeared to harbor the most potential for McCain might now contain the states that tip the balance of the election toward Obama. Why is McCain performing so poorly in his own backyard? 

(Tim Craig and Jon Cohen, Washington Post)

Barack Obama has opened up an eight-point lead over Republican John McCain in Virginia, and the Democrat is entering the final week of the campaign with several core advantages when it comes to turning out his supporters, according to a new Washington Post poll. The survey highlights the challenges facing McCain and the GOP during the final stretch of the election, as Obama has made evident progress in the Old Dominion the past month. By wide margins, Virginia voters think that Obama is the candidate who would do more to bring needed change to Washington, who understands the economic challenges people are facing and who is the more honest and trustworthy of the two rivals. Still, there remains widespread apprehension over whether the Democratic nominee would make a good commander in chief. McCain's path to the White House is very difficult without Virginia's 13 electoral votes, and Obama now leads the senator from Arizona 52 percent to 44 percent in the new poll. In a Washington Post-ABC News Virginia poll taken late last month, Obama clung to a slim 3 percentage-point edge among likely voters. As an example of the gains he has made since that poll, Obama is now tied with McCain among college-educated white men, overcoming what had been an almost 30-point deficit for the Democrat.

(Kristin Jensen, Bloomberg News)

West Virginia is still likely to end up in the Republican column on Election Day, and until recently, the state wasn't even on Obama's radar screen. In July, his campaign came up with a list of 14 Republican-leaning states where it planned to compete that included Georgia and North Dakota, though not West Virginia. His allies also are joining the fight. As recently as Oct. 19, the AFL-CIO wasn't planning to campaign in West Virginia. By Oct. 21, however, the nation's biggest labor federation had changed its mind; it is now deploying workers and money there, said spokesman Steve Smith. McCain was 5 points ahead in a poll conducted last week by West Virginia Wesleyan College and Orion Strategies, yet Obama supporters, including campaign co-chairman Tim Kaine, the governor of neighboring Virginia, said their internal polls indicate a closer race.