The Filter: Oct. 17, 2008

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

(Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg, New York Times)

Confronting an increasingly bleak electoral map, top aides to Senator John McCain said Thursday that they were searching for a "narrow-victory scenario" and would focus in the final weeks on a dwindling number of states, using mailings, telephone calls and television advertisements to try to tear away support from Senator Barack Obama. Mr. Obama's advisers said they would use the remaining 19 days of the campaign to focus mainly on capturing states that President Bush won in 2004; he is going to Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia, over the next three days and spending two days in Florida next week... By contrast, Mr. McCain is spending the next three days campaigning in states that Mr. Bush won in 2004 and that earlier this year Republicans had considered relatively safe: he will visit Florida on Friday, followed by North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio. Republicans said their hopes of capturing any state the Democrats won in 2004 appeared to be dwindling... By every indication, Mr. Obama entered this post-debate period in a significantly stronger position than Mr. McCain, with broader support in polls, more options for an Electoral College victory and voters increasingly fixated on the economic crisis, to the decided advantage of Mr. Obama.

(Alexander Burns, Politico)

Sen. Barack Obama holds leads in four key counties that will go a long way toward determining the eventual winner in four important swing states—Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—according to a new Politico/Insider Advantage survey... In Bucks County, a politically competitive but historically Republican suburb that shares a border with Philadelphia, Obama is running ahead of McCain, 47-41 percent. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry carried the county by a slim 51-48 percent. Obama bests McCain 50-42 percent in Prince William County, a Washington, D.C. suburb that voted for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004. Between 1976 and 2004, Prince William County supported Republican presidential candidates by an average margin of 18 points. Obama also has opened up a wide 53-37 percent advantage over McCain in suburban St. Louis County, which does not include Missouri's largest city, St. Louis. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry carried St. Louis County, the most populous county in the state, 54-45 percent. In Ohio's Franklin County, the state's second-most populous county after Cleveland's Cuyahoga County, Obama leads by a narrower 45-40 percent margin. Kerry carried Franklin County 54-45 percent in 2004.

(Dan Balz and Shailagh Murray, Washington Post)

The global financial crisis, coupled with Obama's steady performance through the three presidential debates, has left McCain with an extremely difficult path to the White House. Absent his ability to pick off any state won by the Democrats four years ago, he must prevent Obama from winning any of half a dozen Republican states that now appear vulnerable. Republican strategists see trouble almost everywhere, facing the prospect of not only losing the White House but seeing Democratic majorities in the House and Senate grow as well. That could force a competition for resources during the final weeks, but strategists said a McCain comeback would be most helpful in relieving some of the pressure on other GOP candidates... Obama sought to pump up his supporters with a stern message not to take the race for granted. "For those of you who are feeling giddy or cocky or think this is all set, I just have two words for you: New Hampshire," he told top contributors... "I've been in these positions before when we were favored and the press starts getting carried away and we end up getting spanked."

(Ronald Brownstein, National Journal)

Reagan's commanding victory 28 years ago marked what many historians see as a hinge in American history -- a moment that was a transition between political eras. If the Democrats win a victory of comparable breadth on November 4, the obvious question will be whether 2008 marks another transition... [But] even if Democrats win big next month, they will face the challenge of understanding what kind of victory they have won. Large Democratic gains unquestionably would reflect a severe judgment on George W. Bush's performance as president. Although history may commend some of Bush's twilight decisions (including the financial rescue package and the "surge" in Iraq), his failures far outnumber his successes. And he is approaching Election Day with the highest disapproval rating (71 percent) the Gallup Poll has recorded for any president. Less clear is whether a big Democratic win would represent an ideological pivot like 1980. Many Democrats believe that a breakthrough next month, coming after a financial meltdown that has discredited unfettered markets, would represent the public's repudiation not just of Bush's performance but of Reagan's small-government ideas... Conservatives are dubious.

(Douglas A. Blackmon, Wall Street Journal)

Lillie McCain is watching the presidential campaign from a singular perspective. A 56-year-old psychology professor whose family spans five generations from the enslavement of her great-great-grandparents to her own generation's fight for civil rights, Ms. McCain appreciates the social changes that have opened the way for Sen. Barack Obama to be the first major-party black contender for the White House. But she also has an uncommon view on another American passage. Ms. McCain and her siblings are descended from two of about 120 slaves held before the end of the Civil War at Teoc, the Mississippi plantation owned by the family of Republican nominee John McCain's great-great-grandfather. In a year when the historic nature of Sen. Obama's candidacy is drawing much comment, the case of the Teoc McCains offers another quintessential American narrative in black and white. For the black McCain family, it is a story of triumph over the legacy of slavery; for the white McCains, it is the evolution of a 19th-century cotton dynasty into one rooted in an ethic of military and national service.

(David Paul Kuhn, Politico)

According to most polls, Barack Obama holds a double-digit lead in Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, all states that many political strategists and pollsters believe are too far gone at this late date for John McCain to win. Still, McCain's campaign soldiers on in those Democratic-leaning states, committing its most precious commodities — time and money — even as the Republican nominee struggles to lock up the red states he likely must sweep to win the presidency. It's a head-scratching strategy that is leading even some Republicans to wonder why the McCain campaign hasn't written off places such as Iowa and Pennsylvania and strategically retreated to ensure victory in more favorable red state terrain — such as Virginia and North Carolina — that it absolutely cannot afford to lose.

(Phillip Klein, American Spectator)

"We are going to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans," Barack Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, said in the spin room here at Hofstra University following the final debate of the 2008 presidential election. Plouffe was repeating one of the boldest claims made by the Obama campaign. It's a claim that the Wall Street Journal editorial board dubbed "Obama's 95% Illusion," noting that more than a third of Americans don't pay any income taxes, and that what Obama's plan does do is offer a raft of subsidies and government payments to individuals and families that he redefines as "tax cuts." His proposal looks more like a redistribution scheme than an honest effort to reduce taxes -- as he revealed on Monday when he told a now famous Ohio plumber that his plan aimed to "spread the wealth around."

(John Heilemann, New York)

McCain was even worse than Gore in one crucial respect: He gave off a vibe of profound and all-encompassing solipsism. In his complaints last night about Obama's negative ads — complaints that have some validity, in that the Democrat's campaign has in fact been more negative than many people believe, though nothing as incendiary as McCain's — he came across as aggrieved, self-pitying, whiny, entitled. The unspoken sentiment behind his words and bearing was, "This fatuous, line-jumping, all-talk-no-action punk is about to take the job that was supposed to be mine! Can you believe this s**t?!" The issues he incessantly chose to harp on — earmarks, ethanol, Colombian free trade — are, to put it mildly, idiosyncratic and pet-peevish. In other words, it's all about him. The contrast with Obama, who throughout all three debates labored mightily to turn every disquisition back to the concerns of you, the voter, was nearly as unflattering as the one between Obama's million-dollar smile and McCain's dime-store grimace.

(Matthew Yglesias, Think Progress)

To me, the crux of the matter is that McCain can't get out of the habits that served him very well when he was a Senator building a glowing national reputation largely by talking directly to elite members of the political press... A lot of McCain's best moments will have gone way over the heads of most people... [For example,] he's had a knack for besting Obama on national security issues nobody cares about, like the relationship of US-Colombia trade deals to the US-Venezuela proxy conflict playing out in the Colombian jungle. [But] people figure that Obama seems like a smart guy, and if something important happens involving a guerilla group nobody's heard of fighting a president nobody's heard of in a country nobody cares about, that Obama's up to the task of coming up with a good idea — meanwhile, McCain has no education policy. What Obama's good at doing is redirecting conversations to things people care about. He's good at conveying both with words and body language that when the subject shifts to something people don't care about, that he'd rather be addressing the things people care about... It's not about how he feels or what he wants... By contrast, McCain's key campaign theme is that McCain is awesome and that the government should spend less money, neither of which have anything to do with real problems in real people's lives.

(Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post)

The search for McCain's racial offenses is untiring and often unhinged. Remember McCain's Berlin/celebrity ad that showed a shot of Paris Hilton? An appalling attempt to exploit white hostility at the idea of black men "becoming sexually involved with white women," fulminated New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. He took to TV to denounce McCain's exhumation of that most vile prejudice, pointing out McCain's gratuitous insertion in the ad of "two phallic symbols," the Washington Monument and the Leaning Tower of Pisa... What makes the charges against McCain especially revolting is that he has been scrupulous in eschewing the race card. He has gone far beyond what is right and necessary, refusing even to make an issue of Obama's deep, self-declared connection with the race-baiting Rev. Wright. In the name of racial rectitude, McCain has denied himself the use of that perfectly legitimate issue. It is simply Orwellian for him to be now so widely vilified as a stoker of racism.

(Lara Jakes Jordan, ABC News)

The FBI is investigating whether the community activist group ACORN helped foster voter registration fraud around the nation before the presidential election. A senior law enforcement official confirmed the investigation to The Associated Press on Thursday. A second senior law enforcement official says the FBI was looking at results of recent raids on ACORN offices in several states for any evidence of a coordinated national scam... Some ACORN employees have been accused of submitting false voter registration forms — including some signed `Mickey Mouse' or other fictitious characters. Those voter registration cards have become the focus of fraud investigations in Nevada, Connecticut, Missouri and at least five other states. Election officials in Ohio and North Carolina also recently questioned the group's voter forms. ACORN has said the "vast majority" of its workers are conscientious, but some might have turned in duplicate applications or provided fake information to pad their pay. Workers caught submitting false information have been fired, ACORN officials say.

(Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times)

Barack Obama has sent five of his most senior operatives to Florida -- two of them to focus on the single county that includes Miami -- for the duration of the presidential campaign, in a newly sharpened strategy to win the election by driving Democratic voter turnout in the Republican-dominated state. The big bet on Florida and Miami-Dade County, Obama aides say, is based on the campaign's belief that it has secured enough supporters to win the state and must now ensure that those supporters get to the polls -- in contrast to states such as Ohio, where the campaign believes victory depends on persuading more voters to support Obama. On Thursday, Miami-Dade County disclosed that Democrats had added more than 94,000 new voters to the rolls since January, compared with about 21,000 new Republicans... The party has also made large gains statewide, though final numbers are not yet known. Now the Obama campaign believes that it can win Florida -- and, therefore, a majority in the Electoral College -- by turning these voter registration gains into actual votes. In addition, the campaign has identified more than half a million African Americans and hundreds of thousands of young people statewide who were already registered but did not vote four years ago.

(Kirk Johnson, New York Times)

With Election Day less than three weeks away, the number of people voting by mail has exploded in Colorado, a closely divided state up for grabs in November. Nearly half of the state's registered voters have requested ballots by mail, compelling the Obama and McCain campaigns to kick-start their get-out-the-vote efforts — and devise new and imaginative ones. All across the state, the traditional Election Day sprint by campaign workers has changed into a nearly monthlong marathon, made all the more pressing by the tightness of the race. Two recent statewide polls suggest a dead heat in Colorado. Both the latest CNN/Time poll and one conducted by Suffolk University in Boston give Mr. Obama a four-point advantage, an edge that falls within each poll's margin of sampling error.

(Michael D. Shear and Amy Gardner, Washington Post)

Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain will take different messages to different audiences in different parts of Virginia over the next two days, but they will have the same goal in mind: to urge their supporters to spend the final stretch of the campaign fighting for every vote they can find... In his quest to win the Old Dominion, Obama is trying to end 44 years of Republican dominance and become the first Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson to carry the state. McCain's challenge is more immediate, as he has less than three weeks to reverse polls that show a trend against him. By every organizational measure, Obama's campaign appears to have the advantage -- it has nearly three times as many offices, has contacted tens of thousands more potential supporters, and has helped register nearly half a million new voters this year, most of whom state officials believe favor the Democrat. But Virginia remains a state with strong conservative tendencies, and it is unclear whether a majority will pull the lever for a Democrat whom McCain has derided as having "the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate." A key to a McCain comeback will be whether Republicans have built a strong enough get-out-the-vote operation in a state where none has ever been needed, something many party leaders question.

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