The Filter: Oct. 29, 2008

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

(Walter Shapiro, Salon)

Just over the horizon lies an alternate universe in which John McCain is locked in a tense nail-biter of a presidential race with Barack Obama, one in which the polls gyrate daily and "too close to call" describes most of the contested political landscape... All that would have been required to achieve electoral parity and a plausible road map to the White House would have been for the Republican nominee to have transformed himself into... the John McCain of the 2000 primaries... While alternative history is inherently speculative, a reasonable case can be made that McCain could have won the 2008 Republican nomination even if he had not pandered to Falwell and had not abandoned his fiscal conservatism to compete with Romney on taxes. The victory formula would have been built around McCain's biography, his unorthodox style, his unstinting support for the surge in Iraq and the general feeling that eight years earlier the GOP made a tragic mistake with Bush. In short, McCain could have come out of the GOP primaries prepared to run against Obama as a true maverick rather than a generic Republican railing against socialism. All it probably would have taken are these four steps. 

(Ron Fournier and Trevor Tompson, Associated Press)

Barack Obama, gunning for a national landslide, now leads in four states won by President Bush in 2004 and is essentially tied with John McCain in two other Republican red states, according to new AP-GfK battleground polling. The results help explain why the Democrat is pressing his money and manpower advantages in a slew of traditionally GOP states, hoping not just for a win but a transcendent victory that remakes the nation's political map. McCain is scrambling to defend states where he wouldn't even be campaigning if the race were closer. Less than a week before Election Day, the AP-GfK polls show Obama winning among early voters, favored on almost every issue [and] benefiting from the country's sour mood... "If you believe in miracles," said GOP consultant Joe Gaylord of Arlington, Va., "you still believe in McCain."... The polling shows Obama holding solid leads in Ohio(7 percentage points), Nevada (12 points), Colorado (9) and Virginia (7), all red states won by Bush that collectively offer 47 electoral votes. Sweeping those four — or putting together the right combination of two or three — would almost certainly make Obama president... There are only two Kerry states still in contention — Pennsylvania with 21 votes and New Hampshire with four — and AP-GfK polls show Obama leading both by double digits.

(John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei, Politico)

There have been moments in the general election when the one-sidedness of our site — when nearly every story was some variation on how poorly McCain was doing or how well Barack Obama was faring — has made us cringe. As it happens, McCain’s campaign is going quite poorly and Obama’s is going well. Imposing artificial balance on this reality would be a bias of its own... Of the factors driving coverage of this election — and making it less enjoyable for McCain to read his daily clip file than for Obama — ideological favoritism ranks virtually nil... For most journalists, professional obligations trump personal preferences. Most political reporters... are temperamentally inclined to see multiple sides of a story, and being detached from their own opinions comes relatively easy... It is not our impression that many reporters are rooting for Obama personally. To the contrary, most colleagues on the trail we’ve spoken with seem to find him a distant and undefined figure. But he has benefited from the idea that negative attacks that in a normal campaign would be commonplace in this year would carry an out-of-bounds racial subtext. That’s why Obama’s long association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was basically a nonissue in the general election. Journalists’ hair-trigger racial sensitivity may have been misplaced, but it was not driven by an ideological tilt.

(Jackie Calmes, New York Times) 

While both presidential candidates enter the campaign’s final week promising to be the better fiscal steward, each has outlined tax and spending proposals that would make annual budget deficits worse, analysts say, with Senator John McCain likely to create a deeper hole than Senator Barack Obama would. Mr. McCain, the Republican nominee, has proposed bigger tax cuts. He has also promised more in spending cuts, but he has not specified where most of them would come from. Even now that the financial crisis has given rise to one bailout package and prompted both candidates to call for billions more in stimulus spending, Mr. McCain has stuck by his promise to balance the budget by the end of his term, a pledge that fiscal analysts call unachievable. Mr. Obama, his Democratic rival, has vowed to reduce the deficit and put it on a path to balance. He also promises an expensive effort to make health care insurance more widely available, a raft of other spending programs and tax cuts for most families and small businesses. He would raise taxes on the wealthiest households to help pay for his health care plans. Neither presidential candidate has provided enough detail, especially about spending programs and what they would cut, for budget groups to put price tags on their agendas.

(Jonathan Martin, Politico) 

Two days after next week's election, top conservatives will gather at the Virginia weekend home of one of the movement's most prominent members to begin a conversation about their role in the GOP and how best to revive a party that may be out of power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue next year. The meeting will include a "who's who of conservative leaders --  economic, national security and social," said one attendee, who shared initial word of the secret session only on the basis of anonymity and with some details about the host and location redacted. The decision to waste no time in plotting their moves in the post-Bush era reflects the widely-held view among many on the right, and elsewhere, that the GOP is heading toward major losses next week... Few believe that the Republican party will respond to another brutal election by following a path of moderation, but conservatives are deeply dispirited and anxious to reassert the core values they believe have not always been followed by Bush, congressional leaders and their party’s presidential nominee . Many on the right, both elites and the rank-and-file, see a rudderless party that is in dire need of new blood and old principles: small government, a robust national security and unapologetic social conservatism.

(Michael Sandler, The Hill)

A landslide victory next Tuesday would give Barack Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape government policy dramatically. By controlling the White House and expanding their Senate majority, Democrats would remove the most reliable weapons used by the GOP to block their agenda: the filibuster and the veto. Those tools have thwarted Pelosi (Calif.) and Democrats since they won the majority in both chambers, leaving bills affecting labor law, healthcare and other issues to die in the Senate or on the president’s desk. With those obstacles removed, Democrats could quickly push forward with legislation allowing labor unions to organize without secret-ballot elections and a bill expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Other possibilities include the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would overturn a Supreme Court decision restricting equal pay lawsuits; a measure that would narrow the role of a “supervisor” for collective bargaining purposes; and a mandate for paid sick leave for companies with 15 or more employees who work at least 30 hours a week — all left over from the last Congress.

(Jeanne Cummings, Politico)

Several political image makers, both Republicans and Democrats, say it’s a smart move. But is there a risk of excess in it, as well? While Obama hasn’t made many strategic mistakes in his campaign against Republican John McCain, he has, on occasion, shown a weakness for extravagance...  Today, Obama is dominating the television ad wars. As of Oct. 22, Obama placed 150% more ads than McCain in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to the Nielsen Co.  Despite all that, and despite his lead in national and most battleground polls, the campaign decided to plunk down between $3 and $5 million to buy half-hour blocks of time at 8 p.m. tonight on NBC, CBS, FOX, Univision, BET, MSNBC and TV One for delivery of his final argument to the voters... The Obama campaign scoffs at the idea that the infomercial is more luxury than necessity. This is, after all, a campaign scarred by its stunningly lopsided loss in the New Hampshire primary after polls had shown double-digit leads. On the campaign trail, Obama’s warnings against complacency are taking on increasingly urgent tones. He has vowed to finish the race on offense and the infomercial is a part of that strategy, say advisers.

(John Dickerson, Slate)

Since McCain has been labeling Obama a redistributor, it was certainly convenient that Obama used a version of that word in a sentence in an interview seven years ago. But it's hard to see how the new attack is going to change the bleak political landscape for McCain. One reason his attacks are not effective is that Obama's remarks are simply not very subversive. Reading them in context, and trying to keep from napping, it's clear that when Obama talks about redistribution, he's not talking about taxing the rich to give handouts—as McCain would have us think. Obama's talking about the Supreme Court's reluctance to force school districts to spend money to provide equality in schools. Later in the same interview, when Obama again discusses redistribution, he also talks about the complexities of school funding after Brown v. Board of Education. With so little time left, McCain needs clear and effective critiques. So far, his tax attacks have been ineffective. Polls show that, over the last month, voters nationally and in key states like Virginia have come to trust Obama more on the question of taxes. Making hay of a seven-year-old quote about the civil rights struggles of a previous generation is not going to change the dynamic.

(Dana Milbank, Washington Post)

Joe Biden spoke to supporters here for 14 minutes and 25 seconds Tuesday morning -- and that's big news. Until he became Barack Obama's running mate in August, Biden could take that long just to say "good morning"; now the Democratic senator from Delaware has to give his entire stump speech in that span. On Capitol Hill he used to speak endlessly on any subject to anybody who asked for his view (and many who did not); now he has to read his words carefully from a teleprompter, squinting into the bright sunlight to avoid missing a syllable of the text that had been written for him by his Obama handlers. The muzzling of Biden seems unnatural and inhumane, like taking a proud lion into captivity.

(Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post)

Could the polls be wrong? Sen. John McCain and his allies say that they are. The country, they say, could be headed to a 2008 version of the famous 1948 upset election, with McCain in the role of Harry S. Truman and Sen. Barack Obama as Thomas E. Dewey, lulled into overconfidence by inaccurate polls... Few analysts outside the McCain campaign appear to share this view. And pollsters this time around will not make the mistake that the Gallup organization made 60 years ago -- ending their polling more than a week before the election and missing a last-minute surge in support for Truman. Every day brings dozens of new state and national presidential polls, a trend that is expected to continue up to Election Day. Still, there appears to be an undercurrent of worry among some polling professionals and academics. One reason is the wide variation in Obama leads: Just yesterday, an array of polls showed the Democrat leading by as little as two points and as much as 15 points... Some in the McCain camp also argue that the polls showing the largest leads for Obama mistakenly assume that turnout among young voters and African Americans will be disproportionately high. The campaign is banking on a good turnout among GOP partisans, whom McCain officials say they are working hard to attract to the polls.

(Scott Helman and Sasha Issenberg, Boston Globe)

Obama has made big gains in his attempts to flip Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, and Colorado into the Democratic column. His advisers express delight that polls have tightened in Georgia, and that the GOP is now on the defensive even in Montana, where the Republican National Committee is reportedly beginning TV advertising this week. But for all of the offense Obama is now playing, he and his campaign are having to mount a forceful defense of a big, vote-rich, traditionally Democratic prize: Pennsylvania. It is the one reliably "blue" state where McCain, the Republican nominee, believes he has a shot, as he looks to compensate for the unknown number of "red" states that may slip from his grasp. Obama's advisers point out that almost every public poll over the last month shows Obama with a double-digit lead; if that holds, it would give the Illinois senator a far larger margin of victory than Al Gore or Senator John F. Kerry had in Pennsylvania in the last two elections. Still, Obama's repeated visits here - he held rallies in Chester, outside Philadelphia, yesterday, and in Pittsburgh the night before - suggest that his campaign is worried enough about the state, which he lost handily in the primary to Senator Hillary Clinton, to maintain a major presence this close to Election Day.

(Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times)

What all this suggests is that, in this and coming election cycles, we may see a new model for the Catholic vote, one whose participation more closely resembles that of Jews, 75% of whom are overwhelmingly pro-Democratic, while a devout minority, the Orthodox, tends more strongly Republican. If you break the Catholic vote down in roughly the same pattern, you get something that looks like the current national spread. According to most reliable data, slightly less than one in four Catholics now assist at weekly Mass and are more open to GOP policies, while the overwhelming majority of their co-religionists have cast their lot with the Democrats' domestic and foreign policies. In other words, back to the future.