The Filter: Oct. 30, 2008

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

(Jonathan Weisman, Wall Street Journal)

Democrats inside Sen. Barack Obama's circle of advisers and on Capitol Hill are jockeying even before Election Day to shape an Obama administration's legislative agenda and define "Obamanomics," a concept he himself has left vague over the campaign. Sen. Obama has been able to win support by convincing voters he could simultaneously be a populist and a fiscal disciplinarian, that he could invest in education, energy and health care and adhere to rules that say additional spending must be more than offset by cuts or tax increases. He attacks greed and excess in Wall Street, yet reaches out to assure financial leaders he understands markets' needs. But if Sen. Obama wins on Tuesday and Democrats expand their congressional majority, the party in power will quickly have to reconcile these seeming contradictions into a legislative strategy.

(Bob Kerrey, New York Daily News)

Joe Biden was right. If elected, Barack Obama's mettle will be tested. Not by Al Qaeda or other enemies of the United States - that possibility is actually much less likely with a President Obama--but by the Democratic Congress. This election is not over. But it's not too soon to envision the dangers and opportunities should Obama win. My worry is not with increased threats from abroad. I am convinced those threats will be reduced with Obama's election and the beginning of a much more sensible and trustworthy American foreign policy. By my lights, the primary threat to the success of a President Obama will come from some Democrats who, emboldened by the size of their congressional majority, may try to kill trade agreements, raise taxes in ways that will destroy jobs, repeal the Patriot Act and spend and regulate to high heaven. This is where Obama's persona is invaluable. He can withstand the arguments and pressure of the liberal wing in the Democratic caucus if, once elected, he is guided by the best instincts he has displayed on the campaign trail.

(John Dickerson, Slate)

With only five days left until Election Day, John McCain's campaign aides seem happier than they have been in a while. For the last few days, the campaign has been increasingly buoyed by what it says has been improvement in its internal polling of 14 battleground states. Aides see a tightening race in states that are crucial to their long-shot march to 270 votes and victory. Even McCain himself is upbeat. "He's been happy for the last few days," says one aide. "That's a change."... Still, the landscape looks pretty bleak... How do McCain aides get around this dire picture without the aid of strong drink? Let's just say that McCain's campaign now relies on hope more than Obama's does. They hope that the Obama organization isn't as impressive as signs suggest it is. They hope that the greater enthusiasm apparent among Democrats turns out to be less than advertised on Election Day. They hope that the public polls that show a big Obama lead are poorly designed, overstating participation by young voters and African-Americans. They hope undecided voters will all break to McCain in the end. 

(David Paul Kuhn, Politico)

The pool of undecided voters on Election Day could be as large as one in 10, but John McCain can hardly rely on them to overtake Barack Obama. According to past election results, undecided voters are unlikely to break decisively for either candidate and dramatically alter Tuesday’s race. In the past eight presidential contests, voters who made up their minds during the last week of the campaign never went for either ticket by large margins of 3-2 or 2-1, which potentially could tip the scales.  “There is likely no hidden life raft in the undecided vote for John McCain,” said Andy Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center. Pew recently conducted an internal analysis of its polls and concluded that undecided voters were likely to split about equally between McCain and Obama on Election Day, meaning the group is more evenly split between the two candidates than the electorate overall, Kohut said. In the coming days, Pew, like the Gallup poll, will finalize its best estimate for how undecided voters will cast their ballots.

(Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal)

Polls can reveal underlying or emerging trends and help campaigns decide where to focus. The danger is that commentators use them to declare a race over before the votes are in. This can demoralize the underdog's supporters, depressing turnout. I know that from experience... In the campaign's final week... the candidates can offer little new substance, so attention turns to the political landscape, and there's no question Mr. McCain is in a difficult place. The last national poll that showed Mr. McCain ahead came out Sept. 25 and the 232 polls since then have all shown Mr. Obama leading. Only one time in the past 14 presidential elections has a candidate won the popular vote and the Electoral College after trailing in the Gallup Poll the week before the election: Ronald Reagan in 1980. But the question that matters is the margin. If Mr. McCain is down by 3%, his task is doable, if difficult. If he's down by 9%, his task is essentially impossible. In truth, however, no one knows for sure what kind of polling deficit is insurmountable or even which poll is correct. All of us should act with the proper understanding that nothing is yet decided.

(David Broder, Washington Post) 

The campaign has been costly in terms of McCain's reputation. He has been condemned for small-minded partisanship, not praised for his generous and important suggestion that the major-party candidates stump the country together, conducting weekly joint town hall meetings -- an innovation Obama turned down. The frustration for McCain and his closest associates is their belief that he is ready to practice the kind of post-partisan politics the country wants -- and which they believe Obama only talks about. Should McCain win the election, it will demonstrate even more vividly than the earlier episodes in his life the survival instincts and capacity for overcoming the odds of this remarkably engaging man. And the country will have to hope this campaign has honed his leadership skills.

(Sean Scully, Time)

Even if the West were to go for McCain, he would still need a strong turnout — though not necessarily an outright victory — in the suburbs of Philadelphia like Downingtown, Blue Bell, Yardley and Bensalem, which are traditionally Republican-friendly, but have been trending Democratic for a decade. Though he has spent most of the campaign appealing to the conservative base, McCain has been sure to highlight his maverick streaks to appeal to more moderate Republicans and independents in this area. Democrats are keenly aware of this math and have been focusing money and time in the Philadelphia area, including Obama's appearance on Tuesday, likely to be his last in the state. Rendell, who himself swept to victory in his first term with a blowout win in the Philadelphia suburbs, said he's confident that Obama will hold those southeastern counties strongly. Turnout in the Philadelphia area might be large enough to make sure Obama is "unbeatable in the state even if the bottom fell out [in the west]," he told TIME. "And I don't think the bottom will fall out."

(Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times)

Among some of the 32 states that allow their residents to vote early without an excuse, either by mail or in person, the verdict is already in from a full quarter of registered voters — well into the millions. In some counties across the nation, the percentages are far higher. The early voting will continue for several days in most of the states, but in Louisiana it is already closed, and it will end on Friday or Saturday elsewhere to give time to update the books to prevent people from voting twice. In 2004, 22 percent of voters cast an early presidential ballot, and the number is expected to climb to 30 percent to 35 percent this year. “We have predicted a third of the electorate; I expect that we will meet that,” said James Hicks, research director at the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Portland, Ore.

(Jon Cohen and Kyle Dropp, Washington Post)

For at least 16 million voters, the 2008 election is already over. Across the more than 30 states that allow no-excuse absentee or early voting, votes have been pouring in at a record pace, and the data show Barack Obama as the clear beneficiary. In the Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll, 59 percent of those who said they had already voted backed Obama, and 40 percent indicated that they supported John McCain. So far, the numbers are a near-mirror image of the past two elections. Four years ago, President Bush scored 60 percent of early voters, according to data from the National Annenberg Election Survey. In 2000, that survey put then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush's take at 62 percent. Mike DuHaime, political director for the McCain campaign, suggested that as the early-voting numbers continue to come in, they will begin to reflect the traditional GOP advantage among those casting absentee ballots, and he thinks that increased early voting may simply detract from Election Day turnout among Democrats. "Programatically, I feel pretty good about those numbers," he said.