ANALYSIS

Let me take the first crack at some discussion of what happened last night, although it is complicated by results that remain unknown in several races.

1. The evening was very short on presidential election drama. In my mind the election was over at about 7:30 EST. When John McCain was leading 51-49 in the early returns from Indiana (gathered from the most rural parts of the state) that was all we needed to see. A Republican who needs to struggle in order to hold Indiana is deeply fucked. After that data was released it simply became a matter of Obama's margin of victory in the Electoral College.

2. I will talk about this at length next week but, for all intents and purposes, polling was dead-on in this election. I rip on polls a lot and I listened to eight weeks of people dreaming up scenarios (fueled by either Democratic pessimism or GOP optimism) about how they were totally fabricated and unreliable. But it turns out that aggregated state polling was essentially 100% correct in the presidential race. Blue states went blue. Red states went red. Toss-up states had extremely tight margins of victory for one candidate or the other.

3. The uncompetitiveness of PA is the only state-level result that surprised me (although Obama's 200,000 vote win in Florida was a pleasant surprise too). Perhaps the GOP spin about how McCain was pouring every dollar into PA and pinning all of his hopes on it subconsciously affected my expectations. Given all the time, money, and talk that McCain poured into the state I expected a narrow Obama win similar to Kerry's razor-thin win in 2004. Turns out the state was a total blowout – with exactly the 10-12 point gap predicted by the polls.

4. In the Senate races, nothing shocked me except Ted Stevens. I am floored by that one. Not only did Begich lead before the indictments, but the few post-indictment polls showed double-digit margins. It's embarrassing to whiff on a race like this and I'd love to say that I have a convenient explanation for what happened. Unfortunately I'm speechless. Every result, even when I guessed wrong, made sense except for this one.

5. We're going to be waiting several days, possibly weeks, for Franken-Coleman results. Not until the last military and absentee ballots arrive in the mail will we know who squeaked out a win.

6. With overwhelmingly Democratic Lane County (Eugene) still only 25% reported, I like Jeff Merkley's chances to close a 14,000-vote gap with Gordon Smith. Merkley also leads big in Clatsop and Benton counties, both of which are only half-reported.

7. The combined races that will be decided by less than 0.5% of the vote – OR and MN Senate seats as well as presidential results in NC, IN, and MO – make clear that turnout matters. That a state like MO can have 4.3 million ballots cast with only 6,000 votes separating the candidates should remind us all that, in many instances, our vote does actually count. Of course, I suppose many more races support the argument that staying home is OK too. But let's be optimistic for the moment.

8. Excepting the Senators from Maine, the purge of New England Republicans from Congress is complete with the defeat of Christopher Shays.

9. Fox News may have hit a new low last night. I am convinced that their audience is 50% talk radio fanboys and 50% hipsters watching them ironically to mock them. Brit Hume's effort to lead a panel chat on "Will a President Obama raise our taxes or just jack up the deficit to pay for his trillions in new spending?" as the results rolled in was too amusing to be sincere. Extra credit for trotting out Juan Williams (the Clarence Page-style "inarticulate token black liberal" character) who couldn't name a single policy proposal Obama made during the campaign.

10. The right-wingers trying to take solace in how "close" McCain made the race should note that this is the most sizeable margin of victory since 1988. George W. Bush could only envy this kind of win. I think "mandates" are bullshit, but America went more solidly for Obama than it ever did for Our Leader.

More later. Add your observations and thoughts.

WHAT HAPPENS NOW: REPUBLICAN VERSION

(Note: actual analysis coming. Must sleep. Enjoy light humor for now.)

1. All property-owning classes will report for field work in our new collective sorghum farms at 4:15 AM tomorrow. Subversives and malingerers will not be tolerated. The Politburo (formerly Congress) will compile a list of non-contributors in need of re-education in Siberia (formerly Alaska).

2. All pregnant women must report for mandatory coat-hanger abortions by Friday. All children under 4 will also be retroactively aborted.

3. The top income tax bracket is increased from 36% to "confiscatory". This term is to be followed with maniacal laughter and songs of praise for Comrade Lenin.

4. Members of the Politburo will meet at 6:00 AM Thursday morning to sign a formal instrument of surrender to Radical Islam. Field work may be interrupted six times daily for prayer toward Mecca (formerly Harrisburg, PA).

5. In tribute to Comrade Obama's closest personal friend, William Ayers, it is now illegal to not bomb your state capitol.

I know you will all cooperate and put significant effort into making our transition to Commie Islam smooth and seamless. Allaobama be praised. You must work to meet our sorghum production targets for the motherland. Never forget our enemy – bourgeois capitalism and prosperity.

THIS IS THE ELECTION NIGHT THREAD

Obscure race to watch: if Christopher Shays loses his House seat in Connecticut, there will not be a single Republican in the House from any of the six states in New England (VT, NH, ME, CT, RI, MA) barring a huge upset in another race.

We may not be in for as long of a night as you think. Indiana and Virginia have the first poll-close time and the results should be fully reported by 10 (barring an unforseen delay) with no paper ballots involved. Sure, it's only two states. But trust me – if McCain loses Indiana and/or Virginia, he's fucked.

OUT OF TIME

It's been an insane 11 month ride and now there is nothing left to say or do. There is not another dollar to be spent, ad to air, or door upon which to knock. The time for debate and persuasion is over.

The frustrating part about elections is that so little of what happens is within our control. We are one in two hundred million. The outcome isn't up to us, it's up to everyone else. Astronaut Ken Mattingly described a similar feeling about his role in the Apollo program while narrating the amazing documentary For All Mankind:

This thing is too big for…hell, I don't even understand it. I'm not sure anyone understands the whole thing. All I can control is my part. I understand what I'm supposed to do, and (the copilot) understands what he needs to do. We are all counting on one another to do our jobs. All these other people are counting on me. You tell yourself that if it fails, it won't fail because of me. It won't fail because of me.

All you control is your own participation. It's a small part to play, but it's all you have. You can make sure that if your candidate fails, it wasn't because of you.

I voted with a very unhealthy mindset today. I am motivated mostly by anger and revenge. With no malice toward any specific person, and certainly not my right-leaning friends and family, I set out to inflict pain on every candidate with "Republican" after his or her name. This is not fair. There are perfectly competent Republican elected officials here in Monroe County and I had no good cause to vote against them.

Unfortunately for them and the concept of fairness, I do not give a shit. This was my tiny effort at payback. Payback for eight years of being called a traitor, having my political ideology used as an epithet, and seeing the bullying stupidity of the talk radio hordes. Payback for purged voter rolls, rigged voting machines, a bureaucracy and judiciary stuffed with sub-moronic partisan hacks, and a national political discourse eminating from the White House at approximately a fourth-grade level. Payback for the "permanent Republican majority" that guided our leaders' strategy in 2004. Payback for all the war dead, the deceit, the lies, and the trillions in debt that eight years of Republicanism wrought.

This is not an election as much as an emotional release. Some people down the ticket will inevitably be affected. Sorry. You are not George W. Bush, but you gave us George W. Bush. Quit whining and accept responsibility for your party and its choices.

ELECTION-WATCHING REMINDERS

1. Rural precincts always submit their results first. Heavily urbanized precincts come later. You may panic a little when you see that Pennsylvania's first reported totals are 70% McCain/27% Obama (9% of precincts reported) but remember that rural precincts are done 30 minutes after poll closing because they only have a few hundred votes to count. Even when they get up to "50% precincts reporting" it's important to note which 50% remains.

2. Ignore the exit polls. There is almost no scientific basis on which to call them "polls" let alone believe their results.
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3. Try to do something else with your time until 8:00 EST. Watching the endless, pointless pre-game coverage is only going to make you more anxious to get the results without bringing them any nearer.
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PUTTING IT ON THE LINE, AGAINST JUDGMENT

Making predictions is not my favorite thing. We know where people stand but not who's going to show up on Tuesday. It's simple to sit here and tell you which way the public is leaning and very difficult to predict how that will translate into electoral results. But I talk too much about these races to do any less than offer predictions which can be held against me at a later date. So, for your mocking pleasure, I give you the Senate races, on which I did not do half-badly in 2006, and the big race. The current Senate, for reference, is 50 D, 49 R, and one ass clown.

Easily defended seats (22)

  • Idaho (Open): Jim Risch
  • Tennessee: Lamar Alexander (i)
  • Wyoming: Mike Enzi, John Barrasso (both incumbents)
  • Mississippi 1: Thad Cochran (i)
  • Alabama: Jeff Sessions (i)
  • Kansas: Pat Roberts (i)
  • Oklahoma: Jim Inhofe (i)
  • South Carolina: Lindsey "Chickenhawk" Graham (i)
  • Maine: Susan Collins (i)
  • Nebraska: Mike Johanns
  • Arkansas: Mark Pryor (i)
  • Montana: Max Baucus (i)
  • Rhode Island: Jack Reed (i)
  • West Virginia: Jay Rockefeller (i)
  • Massachusetts: John Kerry (i)
  • Illinois: Dick Durbin (i)
  • Delaware: Joe Biden (i)
  • Iowa: Tom Harkin (i)
  • Michigan: Carl Levin (i)
  • South Dakota: Tim Johnson (i)
  • New Jersey: Frank Lautenberg (i)

    I would bet a lot of money on these races (6)

  • Virginia: Mark Warner over Jim Gilmore (Pickup – D)
  • New Mexico: Tom Udall over Steven Pearce (Pickup – D)
  • Colorado: Mark Udall over Bob Schaeffer (Pickup – D)
  • Louisiana: Mary Landrieu (i) over John Kennedy (Retained – D). Remember when the GOP thought this was a pickup?
  • Alaska: Mark Begich over Ted Stevens (i) (Pickup – D). I don't see how Tubes can survive seven felony convictions in a race he was already trailing.
  • Texas: John Cornyn (i) over Rick Noriega (Retained – R). Noriega made some noise but failed to gain enough momentum.

    Confident, but not enough to bet money (4)

  • North Carolina: Kay Hagan over Elizabeth Dole (i) (Pickup – D). Dole's recent wingnut "godless" ad shows real desperation. As Jesse Helms' former strategist said, "The next sound you'll hear is the roof caving in on Liddy Dole."
  • New Hampshire: Jeanne Shaheen over John Sununu (i) (Pickup – D). A lot more competitive than I thought, but Sununu isn't going to hang on.
  • Oregon: Jeff Merkely over Gordon Smith (i) (Pickup – D). A very pro-Obama state will have enough carryover to give the unknown challenger a narrow win.
  • Kentucky: Mitch McConnell (i) over Steve Lunsford (Retained – R). Wishing McConnell will lose can't make it so. He hangs on by a thread.

    I am not confident, but I have a reasonable guess (1)

  • Georgia: Jim Martin over Saxby Chambliss (i) (Pickup – D). This is not a brilliant call given that Martin has never led, but he closed a large gap in a hurry and has a ton of last-minute momentum. Here is a state in which higher black turnout – which I earlier stated can only boost Democratic results by about 1% – will make a difference. It is going to be extremely close regardless, so I'll buy the "new registrants" argument here.

    I wouldn't even bet someone else's money on these races (2)

  • Mississippi 2: Roger Wicker (i) over Ronnie Musgrove (Retained – R). This is a total wild card. More than one in five eligible voters in MS is African-American. Musgrove led early, but Wicker has consistently held a small lead for several weeks. Wicker hangs on, although if GOP voters really do throw in the towel on McCain the stay-homes will really affect races like this one.
  • Minnesota: Al Franken over Norm Coleman (i) and Dean Barkley (Pickup – D). Three way races are impossible to predict. It's great that voters have a non-mainstream choice but…Barkley isn't going to win. He'll pull about 15%, which accomplishes nothing for him. How that 15% affects the Coleman/Franken balance is anyone's wild guess. Franken has not run a good campaign but the Ventura/Barkley/Reform candidates in MN take positions that are more conservative than liberal. In other words, if I have to pick I will guess that Barkley's futile campaign takes more votes from Coleman than Franken. Without Barkley, Coleman would hold his seat given Franken's flat campaign.

    Wednesday morning split: 59 D, 40 R, and that male hooker from Connecticut.

    And now the big race. It would be lazy and easy to say "Obama wins" because it is looking about 95% likely at this point. But we can put a finer point on things. Let me be clear that I am intent on missing low this year. Giving McCain every benefit of the doubt – the Mountain West, Ohio, Florida, and Missouri – he still cannot make the math work. So I will make a "Best case McCain" and "Best case Obama" map. Reality will probably fall somewhere between the two.

    The best that McCain can do, in my opinion, is Obama 306, McCain 232. In this best-case scenario I am going with Obama in an extremely tight NC race but McCain in Ohio and Florida.

    If everything goes as Obama hopes – cascading waves of excited voters swamp the polls while McCain's followers give in to despair – it's Obama 378, McCain 160. If the race is any more lopsided than this it will require Obama to win in some pretty unbelievable places.

    So for the econometricians, the 95% confidence interval is (306, 378). That is, the odds that Obama does better or worse than that are a combined 5%. I know that pessimism does and will forever reign in the Democratic Party, but if Obama does not win this race then everything we think we know about elections is utterly wrong and I will have more to worry about that this poor prediction.

  • THE CONSTRUCTED EXPLANATION

    My dissertation chair, a woman with the mind of a Mensan and the patience of Saint Jude the Apostle (the patron saint of lost causes, for you non-papists), made her name in the field by researching what she calls "constructed explanations" for electoral outcomes. Briefly, elections suck at providing information. They tell us who wins, but nothing about why people voted the way they did or how Candidate X managed to prevail.

    There is competition after any election to establish the explanation for what happened. Since there's effectively no way to answer the "why" question, self-interested political actors seek to establish the explanation that suits them as the definitive one. In other words, immediately after the election there are 100 explanations thrown at the wall by the media, candidates, and parties. Five of them stick. Over the next few weeks that gets narrowed down to one – "the" unofficial official explanation of what happened. This single explanation doesn't get established because it's true or superior to the alternatives – it takes root because the people who benefit from it did the best job of selling it. Thus these things pass from idle musings to certified Conventional Wisdom.

    The 2000 and 2004 elections were extraordinarily close, meaning that the spin couldn't begin until we actually figured out who won. With the outcome of next Tuesday's presidential race being assumed by many candidates and talking heads at this point (justifiably or not), the attempt to construct explanations is already well under way. In particular, rival factions in the GOP have already fired the opening shots in a battle to explain their anticipated failure. I will bet my staggering grad student salary that the explanations will quickly winnow down to the following:

    1. If McCain wins, the conversation will not be on his accomplishment but instead on how everyone managed to get things so phenomenally wrong. I mean, there aren't even many Republicans who expect him to win at this point. Explanations about McCain having achieved a miracle comeback will be floated. Eventually, though, the dominant explanation will be that McCain simply wasn't as far behind as the media led us to believe. Polls are nonsense and the media, with their fervent pro-Obama bias, endlessly reported his inevitable win because they wanted it so badly. There might be a grain of truth here. If McCain wins there certainly will be, as the man used to say, some splanin' to do from our friends in the media and in the polling industry.

    2. If Obama wins in a historic landslide – something on the order of 400+ EV – the explanation will be "We underestimated the power of young and/or black voters turning out in large numbers." Again the polling industry will be fingered (*giggle*) for under-representing these voters in their samples in favor of lard-assed white guys in their 40s. There will of course be scant evidence that young and/or black voters were actually the cause of an overwhelming Obama win, but the explanation will be simple and plausible enough to gain wide acceptance.

    3. In the event that the election very closely resembles the predictions, the explanations will focus on the candidates and not the coverage. It will also mark the official start of what could be a 1960s Democrats-style meltdown in the GOP. In one corner will be the moderates (non-Christian Right), the economic conservatives with lukewarm committments to social issues. They have chafed at the necessary presence of the Dobson crowd ("Can't have a majority without 'em", sayeth Rove) for two decades while the religious conservatives have resented that so little of their agenda receives more than lip service. A crushing loss in Congress and the White House will be the spark that causes the simmering tensions to explode.

    The first team, who I shall call Team Palin, will consist mostly of the "values voters" and social conservatives who felt so powerful in 2000 and 2004. TP will also attract party hard-liners, the kind of people who think abandoning the party when it nominates a shitty candidate is tantamount to treason; National Review columnists, Freepers, and talk radio zombies. Their explanation is quite predictable: McCain lost because he wasn't conservative enough. He was some sort of closet liberal who failed the True Believer test repeatedly. To Team Palin, the lesson will be patently obvious: never again can the party err by nominating someone to the left of Sean Hannity. If you're one of these traitorous fake conservatives who bashed McCain for choosing the GovTard, you are not a real Republican. Mike sent me this link and called it the new "Palin Litmus Test." I think that fits. "I've got news for the Christopher Buckleys of the world — if Sarah Palin is enough to make you decide you're not a Republican, you're not a Republican."

    There's going to be a lot of this kind of dick-waving, in-fighting, and calling-out during the fight to determine who the Real Republicans are. Picture extremist Muslim hard-liners, the kind who think suicide bombers are martyrs, versus that nice Muslim guy at your office who wears Dockers and watches 30 Rock.

    Yes, the second team, who I shall call Team Traitor, will have a different explanation: "We ran a shitty candidate on the heels of a shitty President. We've gone too far. Time to ratchet down the rhetoric a little and win back mainstream America." These are the people jumping ship in advance of the election – Chris Buckley, Christopher Shays, William Weld, Lincoln Chaffee, David Brooks, Kathleen Parker, Colin Powell, and so on. These are the more reasonable, less ideologically rigid Republicans, the kind who are conservative but not mindlessly partisan. Unlike Team Palin, these GOPers will not blindly follow any jackass who calls himself a Republican. Team Traitor will of course blame the defeat almost entirely on the nomination of Sarah Palin. They will hold her up as proof that the party needs people of substance, not vapid spokesmodels.

    If the election plays out as so many are predicting, this fourth and final explanation will come closest, in my opinion, to hitting the mark. This is still a ridiculously conservative country. An historic Democratic landslide across all races will not signal a population that has found Liberalism as its new religion. Instead I believe it is the non-Democratic voting public registering its disgust with the Rove/Bush/Dobson incarnation of the GOP. Palin and this campaign represent everything you need to know about why the Democrats are likely to win big – the inanity, the shameless mudslinging, the stale ideas, the hipocrisy, the faux-moralizing, and the racist dog-whistles. Team Traitor will be correct, in essence. The GOP needs to find good candidates, come up with a new idea for the first time in 40 years, and run the Principled Campaign that gramps promised he would give us.

    But now that the GOP is stuck with the loony right as load-bearing column in their big tent, which explanation do you think will actually prevail? I think we know which one, and we're certain that it's going to be sweet, vengeful fun watching the intraparty bloodbath on the way to Team Palin's "victory."

    THE HERO'S TALE

    (This is going to get a little weird)

    Had George Lucas followed through with his initial script and storyline for the Star Wars trilogy, it is unlikely that they would be among the most famous films in existence. I will not regale you with the laundry list of flaws inherent in his original story, but they were numerous and would have produced a forgettable piece of C-minus science fiction. Lucas owes his fame, fortune, and success to the fact that, at some point between the first draft and the day filming began, he discovered Joseph Campbell.**

    Campbell, of course, is famous for having introduced to a wide audience the concept of a "Monomyth" (The Hero With a Thousand Faces, 1949), a theory that culture-defining myths and stories that originated independently (although that claim is contentious) in different societies are remarkably similar. In other words, there are not stories originating from different cultures, there are different cultures telling interpretations of the same story. While Campbell can hardly claim that he invented this idea, he did successfully apply it to a broad range of classical mythology. In the introduction to his seminal work, Campbell describes the tale as:

    A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

    That tremendous oversimplification describes a tale we have heard many times, a tale that Lucas chose to tell almost verbatim in Star Wars. Humble birth. Mystical calling. Refusal of said calling followed by selfless acceptance. A quest defined. Trials endured and temptations resisted. Evil vanquished. The Hero enters a second, higher plane of existence and refuses return. The Hero bestows the benefits of knowledge and experience from The Journey on his fellow men. Death is followed by resurrection and/or eternal life on a higher plane.

    Sound familiar? It should. It's The Lord of the Rings. Star Wars. The New Testament. The life of the Buddha. The Matrix. The Lion King. Led Zeppelin's concept album phase. The stories of Moses, Osiris, Mohammed, or Abraham. Homer's Odyssey. Ender's Game. Harry Potter. Anything by James Joyce. We could list examples for days. Campbell would argue that these works of literature and film are almost universally loved because they tell a tale with which we innately and subconsciously identify.

    So, you say, great. Who cares. Well, the power of this narrative is not lost on political campaigns. If you think I am about to make a leap too far, consider the official biography videos (10 minutes each) produced by the McCain and Obama campaigns. Obviously they have to steer clear of the spiritual/supernatural dimensions of the Monomyth, but the effort to structure the candidates' biographies around the classic story are unmistakable. They rose from humble beginnings and received a call to service – to be exceptional – at a young age. They faced great challenges, sought the guidance of their wisened elders (not to mention God), and returned from the top of the mountain to bestow what they've learned on their fellow man. They are reluctant leaders, not power-hungry tyrants. Whatever temptations have crossed their paths were resisted.

    The Hero/Savior also exists as a Jungian archetype, proving that Mr. Campbell was not the first person to grasp the universality of the imagery. Obama's campaign has been masterful at evoking the desired psychological responses from voters, projecting the calm and poise of natural leader. McCain, on the other hand, has been less successful at selling the Hero archetype. Instead*** he has been cast as the Wise Old Man, an archetype which garners respect but fails to excite. Biden was chosen to deflate McCain's claim to experience and wisdom. Jung or Campbell, in fact, would point out that the Hero-Wise Old Man combination of Obama-Biden (or Skywalker-ObiWan, Neo-Morpheus, Frodo-Gandalf, Daniel San/Mr. Myagi) speaks directly to our innate desires. Unfortunately for McCain, I'm not sure that the Wise Old Man/Village Idiot combo does so as successfully.****

    Nothing in politics is left to chance. Whether or not they have read Joseph Campbell, both campaigns are depicting their man as the star of the Monomyth. And while the Bush-Cheney campaign probably didn't know who Carl Jung is, they absolutely nailed the Hero/Wise Old Man dynamic that people find so innately appealing. It would be too controversial to say that this explanation is a complete one for 2008 or any other election, but I strongly believe that what we usually call "character" or "charisma" – the non-issue-related portion of a candidate's appeal – is in reality a predictable set of responses to archetypes ingrained in the human psyche, hiding in the background and guiding our emotional responses.

    **Lucas became such a fan that Campbell's famous Power of Myth miniseries with Bill Moyers was actually filmed at Skywalker Ranch.

    ***I've lost you at this point, haven't I? Unfortunately for you, I could talk about Jungian imagery and mass responses to political cues and phenomena all day. It's my birthday, so I'm going to talk about it all damn day if I want to.

    ****Kidding aside, Palin is intended to appeal to the classic Jungian 'MILF' archetype. OK, no, seriously, all kidding aside, Palin is supposed to fill an Everyman (common sense aplenty, dontchaknow!) or Rebel/Rugged Individualist archetype.

    STEP INTO THE SURGE

    Last week I said "The polls will narrow over the next two weeks as undecideds finally extract heads from asses, but there are only two ways to get around the data showing Obama in the lead." Indeed, the national polls seem to be narrowing ever so slightly, bumping McCain up to around 45%. But the state polls aren't budging. In Pennsylvania, for example, Obama's lead remains in double-digits. How is that possible?

    It's pretty simple. First, right-leaning pollsters like Rasmussen and Zogby are amping up the use of "likely voter" models to exclude respondents who get in the way of the surge story. Second, a lot of "undecided" voters in uncompetitive states are coming out of the closet for McCain. I'm sure it thrills the campaign to realize that it may have rocketed from 38% to 42% in California.

    UPDATE: ONE WEEK OUT

    Throughout this post I encourage you to use the "And thennnnnnnn…." voice from Dude? Where's My Car?

    Let me explain in detail what John McCain would need to accomplish – in about four days, mind you – in order to win this election. While polling is not an exact science, let's start by assuming that McCain (but not Obama) currently wins the "strong" states – states in which the polling lead is more than 10 percentage points. Hell, let's even give him the three GOP leaners and consider them solid. Thus:

    We start gramps with 142 EV (AK, AZ, ID, UT, WY, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX, LA, AR, KY, TN, MS, AL, SC, and WV). Now here is his mission, with tasks arranged in order of increasing difficulty.

    Step One: Prevail in three toss-up states in which Obama's competitiveness has been unexpected (Montana, North Dakota, and Georgia). The RNC has just started running ads in Montana, a decent sign that they are worried. McCain needs to go 3-for-3, putting him at 163 EV. And then…

    Step Two: While devoting heavy resources to the above three states, McCain must also find a way to prevail in four legitimate toss-ups, states that are statistical ties or Obama leads: Indiana, Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina. Note what has been laid out so far – McCain has swept seven tough swing states, including a behemoth like Florida. That gives him…a whole 227 EV. If he goes 7-for-7 in battlegrounds. And then…

    Step Three: McCain must once again sweep a set of four states which lean Obama (New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Ohio). Note that he has never led in New Mexico or Colorado and he has officially pulled up stakes in NM to boot. So without even campaigning heavily (or at all) in these states he must overcome four statistically significant leads for Obama. If he does, bringing his ridiculously improbable run to 11-for-11 in battleground states, he wins, right? Actually, that puts him at 266 EV. And then…

    Step Four: Finally McCain must win a state in which he currently trails by margins like 10 or 12 points in single-state polling. The list includes New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, or Minnesota. He has never led in any of these states. In Virginia he has trailed significantly for more than a month. The good news, if it can be so called, is that if he wins a big one like Pennsylvania he would have some wiggle room to drop one of the 11 states mentioned previously. The bad news is that making up a 10-point deficit in a couple of days is unlikely, let alone coming from behind in a dozen states at once.

    So it's just that easy. All McCain needs to do is win everywhere and do it in four days with no money and a campaign that has devolved into vicious in-fighting – not to mention all the high-profile conservatives who have abandoned ship or the fact that literally hundreds of polls must be wrong by about 8 points in order for any of this to be remotely plausible (although the last part isn't necessary as long as you're going by the real polls – the ones Zogby does for Drudge Report based on discredited decade-old turnout models).

    I'd say "Stranger things have happened!" but unless you can find evidence of a team of nearsighted midgets performing Death of a Salesman in Mongolian wearing robes made of veal, then no. Stranger things have not happened.

    The candidates are using their ticket-mates quite differently at this point, Palin being used heavily to fire up the rednecks and Biden being locked in a small closet with water but no food. Other than in Pennsylvania, where he could potentially help, Biden can only hurt the campaign now. Palin is in her element (i.e., slandering Obama to crowds of slack-jawed racists) and it's hard to tell if she's campaigning for McCain or for herself in 2012.

    McCain has ceased to run for president as much as he is running against Barack Obama. His campaign has abandoned whatever message it had about its candidate and is 100% devoted to going negative. Notice how there's never any talk about McCain's philosophy or ideas, only dark hints of Obama's socialist leanings. No policy proposals, only scare tactics about what Obama's proposals will bring. No relevant character points about McCain himself, just hundreds of different aspersions about Obama. It wouldn't be so sad if it actually worked, but it appears to have little effect.

    Lastly, the McCain camp is launching its desperation "ACORN stole the election from us" message a week early. They're just so gosh-darn confident about winning that they need to devote their pivotal final week to planting this seed. Irrespective of my preferences, if Obama wins I hope it is by a sizeable margin. Otherwise this is going to be decided in court (although note that the Supreme Court rejected the Ohio GOP's attempt to force the SOS to purge 100,000+ voters based on spelling errors and technicalities). If there is fraud involved in our voting process I will be the first person to call attention to it. This, however, feels less like an epidemic of fraud than a pitiable attempt to play the victim card of which the right have taken full ownership in the Fox News era.

    I see nothing changing. Either the data we have now are accurate and Obama wins or every empirical measure of the race is flat wrong and the polling industry needs to be vigorously spanked.