FINEMAN: About Those 'Tightening' Polls...


Over at "Race to the Finish," my fellow NEWSWEEK blogger Howard Fineman takes a look at the latest "traditional" Gallup tracking poll--which shows "Obama lead[ing] McCain by only two percentage points, 49 to 47 percent"--and explains why we still have a battle on our hands:

By all accounts and by all odds, Obama is fairly comfortably ahead in the Electoral College—which, as Al Gore will tell you, is what matters.

On TV Wednesday night, Obama will give what one aide described to me as a “meaty” discourse on his basic tax and health-care proposals. No high-flown rhetoric, but rather a briefing paper for wary undecided swing voters---most of whom, the campaign thinks, are “soft Republicans” who kind of want to vote for Obama but need reassurance.

And yet, in the meantime, Sen. John McCain has not quite disappeared in the rear-view mirror...

Why hasn’t Obama run away with this?

Because the country remains culturally divided. Because the more it looks like Democrats will score huge gains in Congress, the more worried “soft Republican” voters get. Because McCain has succeeded, in the minds of some of those voters, in raising the hoary specter of “tax-and-spend” liberals. Because Obama hails from a place (South Side Chicago) and background (the son of professional academics) more reminiscent of Democratic losers like Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry than winners like LBJ, Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton. Because some voters remember the hate-filled sound bites of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And, to a degree we cannot measure and may never fully know, because Obama is an African-American---and one with a Swahili name at that.

There is nothing that the staffers here in Chicago can do about any of that at this point. Up on the 11th floor of the office building here, they're hard at work. They aren’t thinking about those things. Their campaign manager, David Plouffe, won’t let them. “We expected this to tighten,” one of them said to me a few hours ago.

And so, it seems, it has.

What do you guys think? Is this "tightening" real? Or is it just statistical noise? Why aren't the swing states moving, too? I'll be back with my own thoughts on the latest polls later today. Until then, the comments are all yours.