The Filter: Oct. 31, 2008... Halloween Edition

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

(Stuart Taylor, National Journal)

The first Obama has sometimes seemed eager to engineer what he called "redistribution of wealth" in a 2001 radio interview, along with the more conventional protectionism, job preferences, and other liberal Democratic dogmas featured in his campaign. I worry that he might go beyond judiciously regulating our free enterprise system's all-too-apparent excesses and stifle it under the dead hand of government bureaucracy and lawsuits... The pragmatic, consensus-building, inspirational Obama who has been on display during the general election campaign is a prodigious listener and learner. He can see all sides of every question. He seems suffused with good judgment. His social conscience has been tempered by recognition that well-intentioned liberal prescriptions can have perverse unintended consequences. His tax and health care proposals are much less radical than Republican critics suggest... I do hope that if Obama wins, the enormity of the economic and international crises facing him will accelerate his intellectual evolution and convince him that simply replacing dumb Bush policies with dumb Democratic policies will only drive the country deeper into the ditch. The best thing for the country would be to take on the interest groups and govern from the center.

(Matthew Mosk, Washington Post)

Sen. John McCain and the Republican National Committee will unleash a barrage of spending on television advertising that will allow him to keep pace with Sen. Barack Obama's ad blitz during the campaign's final days, but the expenditures will impact McCain's get-out-the-vote efforts, according to Republican strategists. McCain has faced a severe spending imbalance during most of the fall, but the Republican nominee squirreled away enough funds to pay for a raft of television ads in critical battleground states over the next four days, said Evan Tracey, a political analyst who monitors television spending. The decision to finance a final advertising push is forcing McCain to curtail spending on Election Day ground forces to help usher his supporters to the polls, according to Republican consultants familiar with McCain's strategy. The vaunted, 72-hour plan that President Bush used to mobilize voters in 2000 and 2004 has been scaled back for McCain. He has spent half as much as Obama on staffing and has opened far fewer field offices. This week, a number of veteran GOP operatives who orchestrate door-to-door efforts to get voters to the polls were told they should not expect to receive plane tickets, rental cars or hotel rooms from the campaign.

(Jeff Zeleny, New York Times) 

Senator Barack Obama is spending the final four days of his campaign mining for votes in places where Democrats have not turned out at full strength in recent presidential races, hoping to offset other areas in swing states where his candidacy may need a lift... His aides say they think the electoral battlegrounds of Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, Wisconsin and New Mexico are trending toward Mr. Obama, though advisers do not rule out a last-minute visit to any place that suddenly looks troublesome. Instead, he will focus his attention on six states that President Bush won four years ago. After a late-night rally on Friday evening in Indiana, Mr. Obama heads Saturday to Henderson, Nev.; Pueblo, Colo.; and Springfield, Mo. He is scheduled to make a three-city fly-around on Sunday. And on Monday, he is set to dash through Florida, North Carolina and back here to Virginia. The breadth of Mr. Obama’s travel underscores the number of Republican-leaning states that his advisers believe remain within his reach. It is a wide path to claiming the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, a strategy intended either to offer a multitude of options to get there or pave the way for a larger margin of victory.

(Faye Fiore, Los Angeles Times)

There is little research on undecided voters because they are an ever-changing population -- those who equivocate in one election cycle might not in another. A study of presidential elections at State University of New York at Buffalo found that the last time wafflers made a difference was 1960. But this year, they look to be significant again. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll this week shows that this wavering wing of the electorate -- 6% in Florida and 8% in Ohio -- is large enough to make the difference in those battlegrounds. The rest of the nation, minds made up and marching by the thousands to vote early, has begun to wonder: What's up with those people? They are, after all, faced with two starkly different men, from different generations, with different ideas, revealed and vetted in perhaps the longest campaign cycle ever. Raymond and several others surveyed from Florida and Ohio explained their thinking in follow-up interviews this week, revealing an earnest if conflicted lot, deliberative by nature, particularly in decisions of consequence. 

(James Carville, Financial Times)

Ultimately, the truth is that Mr McCain’s campaign was dealt an awful hand, albeit one he had a role in creating. You can second guess how they played it (and you should) but campaigns take chances (like they did in doubling-down on Ms Palin) when they are behind. So with only a few days to go before the party is handed its second mammoth loss in as many cycles, following the 2006 mid-term elections, my counsel to Republican friends would be to keep pointing fingers but lay off the political professionals as much as possible. They were not the ones responsible for the disastrous Bush-Cheney-Rove policies that Americans so desperately want to reverse. 

(Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post)

Here's a brash assertion: The debates did it. Okay, okay, this is an oversimplification. Lots of things "did it." We could fill today's Post with the details. Nor is this an obvious conclusion that is widely shared. In fact, our pundits appear to have put the debates behind them, hardly mentioning them in the past fortnight. After all, there were no zingers, no blood on the floor, no egregious goofs -- nothing happened! Well, not exactly. There is now a lot of evidence from polls and focus groups suggesting that Sen. Obama has significantly improved his standing with a great many Americans since the first debate on Sept. 26, exactly five weeks ago. Americans find Obama more empathetic, stronger, better prepared to be president and just more sympathetic a figure than they did before the debates... Were the debates responsible for these developments? Probably. They attracted many more Americans than any other event or aspect of the campaign. 

(Michael Kinsley, Time)

We may disagree on how much to spread around and how to go about it. We all tend to think that it's someone else's wealth that needs to be spread around and that it ought to be spread in our direction. But the principle that the unequal distribution of wealth is a legitimate concern and government policies should mitigate it has been part of American democracy since at least the New Deal. In fact, it is a commonplace that the moderate wealth-spreading of the New Deal saved American democracy. Today collecting checks from people and issuing checks to other people--or the same people--is the government's main domestic activity.

(Rich Lowry, New York Post) 

Obama is an exotic bird--a self-described tax-cutter for "95 percent of working Americans," with a predilection toward socialistic language and concepts. The key to the riddle is the nature of his tax program. Obama proposes a dog's breakfast of tax credits, including a $500 refundable work credit that applies even to people who owe no income taxes: The IRS would cut them a $500 check every year. This essentially is a government payment dressed up as a tax cut, to be partly funded by new taxes on the top 5 percent of earners. So Obama is redistributing wealth--but in an eminently salable way. Call it "redistributive change we can believe in." His plan wouldn't increase the incentive to work, invest or save. In fact, the opposite: People who earned more would lose part or all of the tax credit. But, for Obama, it's a matter of justice rather than economics.

(Steven Greenhouse, New York Times)

Independent analyses of the presidential candidates’ tax proposals show that those who make less than $250,000 a year would not see their taxes raised under Senator Barack Obama’s plans. Further, Mr. Obama would generally cut taxes more than Senator John McCain would for households with incomes less than $100,000 a year. Mr. McCain would cut taxes generally on par with Mr. Obama for those making $100,000 to $250,000 a year, the analyses found, but those making $250,000 a year and above would typically pay less in taxes under Mr. McCain. The analyses were conducted independently by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, and Deloitte, the accounting giant, at the request of The New York Times.

(Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles) 

Some white union members in the suburbs northwest of St. Louis are blunt about their racism when Gary Booth knocks on their doors. "I am not voting for a black man," they tell Booth, who leads organized labor's Democratic campaign effort in nearly all-white St. Charles County. Others are indirect but make clear that their unease with Barack Obama's race will influence their vote on Tuesday. "It's a difficult thing to try to break down those barriers," Booth said. Whether Obama or Republican rival John McCain carries Missouri depends in no small part on the nearly 250,000 voters of St. Charles County, a fast-growing working-class area. It would be tough for any Democrat to win in this culturally conservative county, where many voters oppose abortion rights and gay marriage. However, the troubled economy and Obama's huge campaign operation have put the entire state in play. The nominee is making two trips to Missouri in the campaign's final week. He has 44 offices in the state, which President Bush won handily in 2004, compared with McCain's 16. As for unpaid volunteers in Missouri, Obama has thousands.

(Tim Evans and Mary Beth Schneider, USA Today)

No Democrat presidential candidate has carried Indiana since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 — and no Democrat has won statewide without also doing well in southern Indiana... Statewide polls have been mixed. A Reuters-Zogby poll conducted Oct. 23-26 had McCain ahead 50% to 44%. ASurveyUSA poll conducted Oct. 21-22 had Obama leading 49% to 45%. And an Indianapolis Star-WTHR (Channel 13) poll conducted Sunday through Tuesday had it essentially even, 45.9% Obama to 45.3% McCain. Compounding efforts to predict the outcome of Indiana voting are more than 800,000 new and updated voter registrations filed in the state this year, representing nearly one-fifth of the state's about 4.5 million registered voters, according to the Indiana secretary of State's office. Obama's campaign has established more than two dozen campaign offices in the state — 15 in southern Indiana, according to Jonathan Swain, communications director for the Obama campaign in Indiana. The candidate has made 47 campaign stops in the state, including seven since the primary, Swain said. Obama is scheduled to appear tonight in Lake County, in northwest Indiana. McCain has made six campaign stops.

(Beth Fouhy, Associated Press)

With days still to go in the White House race, backers of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palinare talking her up as a possible contender in 2012, speculation that irritates other Republicans who contend she's a drag on the ticket and that her lightweight image — unfair or not — will be hard to shed. The Alaska governor has done little to quiet the talk. In fact, she fueled the discussion this week when she signaled that she will remain on the national political scene no matter what happens Tuesday. "I'm not doing this for naught," she said in an interview with ABC News. The telegenic Palin, who burst onto the national stage seven weeks ago, has divided conservatives — some energized by her strong stand on social issues and others embarrassed by her halting interview performances. On the campaign trail, she is a popular draw, attracting numbers that a Republican Party searching for female star power can't ignore. The divide is clearly evident.