The Filter: Oct. 1, 2008

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

(Sara Murray, Wall Street Journal)

A nationwide poll of Americans who are eligible to vote for the first time, or who skipped the previous election but are registered now, found that they back Sen. Obama over Sen. John McCain by a margin of 61% to 30%... The survey, conducted by the Wall Street Journal, NBC News and the MySpace networking Web site, also found these voters have distinctly more positive impressions of Sen. Obama than any of the other three candidates atop the Democratic and Republican tickets. But that hardly means the Obama campaign can count on them. When asked to rank their interest in the Nov. 4 election, just 49% said they were "very interested." By comparison, 70% of voters of all age groups said they were "very interested," according to a separate Journal/NBC News national poll taken a week ago. Moreover, 54% of the new voters said they would definitely vote Nov. 4... The findings of the survey underscore the opportunities and the hurdles that face the Obama campaign. It has spent millions of dollars to register voters, as well as on plans to get them to the polls. Traditionally it has been highly difficult for campaigns to get newly registered voters, especially young ones, to show up on Election Day.

(Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times)

The Democrats held 26 debates during the primary season. Mr. Biden, of Delaware, participated in 14 of them before he dropped out of the race Jan. 3, after he came in fifth in the Iowa caucuses. That would seem to give him a huge advantage going into Thursday’s vice-presidential debate with Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, who has never debated on the national stage. But... there are perils ahead for Mr. Biden on Thursday — both because of his tendency to go too far and the hazards of debating a woman. A review of Mr. Biden’s debate performances shows him to be deeply knowledgeable across a range of topics, reflecting his nearly four decades in Washington... Mr. Biden’s answers tend to gush forth and his voice is raspy, which lends his arguments an air of urgency. He also uses assertive phrases like, “the truth is,” or “folks, let me tell you,” which grab listeners by the lapel... One danger for Mr. Biden on Thursday is that his habit of speaking authoritatively, of saying he possesses the truth, will come across as overbearing or condescending, particularly toward someone like Ms. Palin, who lacks his credentials.

(Joel Millman, Wall Street Journal)

There are two things people here remember about Sarah Palin's debating style during her race for governor two years ago. One is the stack of color-coded cue cards she took to the podium for help whenever she was asked a policy question. The other is how quickly she was able to shuck those props, master the thrust-and-parry of jousting with her opponents and inquisitors, and project confidence to an audience of television viewers watching from home. That's a contrast from the image projected by Gov. Palin in recent TV interviews in which she has seemed shaky on basic facts -- performances that have made even many of her fellow Republicans nervous about the vice-presidential debate scheduled for Thursday. Her Democratic opponent, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, is a veteran of three decades of congressional deliberations, as well as two rounds of presidential-nominating contests with their own sets of debates. And it may take more than style points to reassure viewers rattled by relentless news this week of economic dislocation.

(Dan Balz, Washington Post)

If John McCain loses to Barack Obama in November, the party is in for a long period of infighting and introspection. If McCain wins, he may be confronted with many of the same problems Bush has faced through much of his second term -- a president in serious disagreement with at least part of his party. The Republican Party is leaderless and lacking in cohesion. The president is certainly not in charge. McCain sought to exert power over the party to no avail, and in the process he raised more questions about his own style of leadership... Obama may bear less of the blame for what happened Monday than others, but largely because he put less on the line than McCain. Perhaps that was the right posture to take for a presidential candidate who has at best only limited authority to get into the thick of the negotiations. But he will get less credit if and when anything finally passes... The voters will sort out the blame on all this in November. Anger at Washington will feed a hunger for change, and it's likely to fall harder on the GOP as the party that holds the White House. 

(Paul Waldman, American Prospect)

If McCain loses the election, each of the three main conservative factions will have a case to make about the others' failure. The war the neocon dreamers cooked up turned out to be a disaster, one in which virtually every Republican was implicated... The Palin pick will no doubt be seen as one of the worst in memory, more embarrassing than even Quayle, offering a rebuke to every social conservative who embraced her with such lip-quivering joy. And the economic disaster that came right before the 2008 election convinced nearly the entire country that deregulation failed, the free market can't be left to its own devices, and government must be the guarantor of economic security. In other words, all the pillars that have held up conservatism for so long are crumbling. When the dust settles, it will be difficult to know just what it means to be a conservative. Is a conservative who doesn't proclaim the perfection of the free market and the evil of government still a conservative? What about a conservative who thinks his comrades ought to quit yapping about gay marriage and get into the 21st century? What about a conservative who wants to accede to the public's desire for a less bellicose foreign policy?

(Anne E. Kornblut and Michael D. Shear, Washington Post)

After watching the spectacular defeat of a $700 billion financial rescue plan in the House on Monday, Sen. Barack Obama yesterday accelerated his effort to sell the proposal, seeking to redress what his advisers believe has been a failure by the White House to adequately explain the plan. Both Obama and his rival for the presidency, Sen. John McCain, called yesterday for the FDIC insurance limit to be raised to protect as much as $250,000 per bank account, a suggestion that was adopted as an emergency measure later in the day... Both Obama and McCain also called President Bush on Tuesday morning, according to White House aides and the two campaigns. McCain said he urged the president to tap the Treasury Department's $250 billion Exchange Stabilization Fund to help shore up financial institutions, as well as to exercise new authority to buy as much as $1 trillion in mortgages. Obama also sought to put new pressure on some of the 95 Democrats who voted to defeat the bill, calling members whom he might be able to influence. His effort came as McCain continued to call Republican members of the House.Obama's focus, his senior advisers said, is on using vivid language on the campaign trail to convey how the package would affect voters' lives -- in the hope of increasing public support for it and leading reluctant lawmakers in both parties to switch their votes.

(Kenneth P. Vogel, Politico)

According to her handlers, Sarah Palin’s schedule is light on media interviews and fundraisers because she’s so popular with the Republican base that her time is better spent on the campaign trail. But she hasn’t been hitting the hustings much, either, and her relatively sparse campaign schedule underscores the McCain campaign’s struggle to develop a strategy for effectively deploying its vice presidential candidate. Large chunks of time in Palin’s public schedules have gone mostly unaccounted for since John McCain selected her to be his running mate late last month. Since then, Palin, the governor of Alaska, has held a grand total of 17 events that were open to the general public, and many of those were joint appearances in which she stumped at McCain’s side. In fact, she’s only done five rallies by herself. That’s well off the average pace for a modern vice presidential candidate, and Palin’s public schedule shows no signs of becoming more vigorous anytime soon... By contrast, Biden, a Delaware senator, has held more than 40 events open to the general public, and only eight of them have been with his running mate, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

(John Dickerson, Slate)

Just because you say you're an independent or unaffiliated voter doesn't mean you're a swing voter. A lot of people who are registered independents turn out to be hidden partisans, and a portion of those who are registered in one of the two parties are nevertheless up for grabs. The former Hillary Clinton supporters have been a vocal example from the current election cycle. Studies over the years have shown that swing voters tend to be less engaged with the campaign than partisans and are slightly less educated and more moderate. They often live in suburbs, especially what political scientists call urbanizing suburbs, which can be found between the metropolitan Democratic strongholds and the Republican fringe suburbs and rural areas—areas like the suburbs outside Philadelphia, where McCain and Obama are fighting over the issue of stem-cell research... Swing-voter makeup varies from state to state. Latino voters play a larger role in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada. The targeted suburbs in Virginia and Pennsylvania are more moderate than those around St. Louis or Cincinnati. In states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, the uncommitted voters tend to be older, whereas in growth states like Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia they tend to be younger.

(Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin, Politico)

John McCain’s fade in recent polls, combined with a barrage of negative news coverage during the financial crisis, has leading Republican activists around the country worrying about his prospects and urging his campaign to become much more aggressive against Barack Obama in the remaining month before Election Day. A flurry of new polls shows Barack Obama gaining in several battleground states – most notably Florida, Pennsylvania and swing states throughout the West. Officials worry early voting, which is under way in important states such as Ohio, is likely to favor Obama in this toxic political climate.  Several state GOP chairmen in interviews urged the McCain campaign to be more aggressive in hitting Obama’s vulnerabilities, such as his past relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and other problematic associations from Chicago. But as September turns to October—Wednesday marks 34 days to the Nov. 4 election—it is clear McCain himself is to blame for the most urgent problems. His snap decision to throw himself into the bailout debate has proven disastrous, since his efforts looked late and half-hearted, and many in the GOP ignored his pleas in Monday’s House vote. And his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, initially a political boon, has become a distraction inside and out of the campaign, with top staff now sidelined trying to avoid a debate disaster on Thursday night, officials close to the campaign say. 


(Associated Press)

If John McCain is elected and goes on to win a second term, there's as much as a one-in-four chance America could see its first woman president - Sarah Palin. It's actuarial math. The odds highly favor either McCain or Barack Obama completing a first term in good health. After that, McCain's odds still are still fairly solid, but his chances of dying or being in poor health go up faster than Obama's, mainly because of his age. An Atlanta actuarial company specializing in individualized estimates of life and health expectancy has run the numbers for McCain, 72, and Obama, 47. The firm, Bragg Associates, calculated the odds of the candidates dying in office, adjusted for their known health problems. McCain would be the oldest president to begin a first term in office. By the end of a second term, Jan. 20, 2017, he would have a 24.44 percent chance of dying, compared with 5.76 percent for Obama, the firm estimates.