Surveying the race

Barack Obama's campaign manager paints a mostly rosy picture supported by recent polling, while John McCain's media buys give some insight as to where he'll be trying to compete.

Published June 25, 2008 12:33AM (EDT)

A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows Barack Obama with a big lead -- 12 points, to be exact -- over John McCain.

Now, that's a high number. In fact, it's a noticeably wider margin than that found by several other recent polls. Then again, this is the second poll released within one week that has found a double-digit margin between the two presumptive major-party nominees. The first one, a Newsweek poll released last Friday that showed a 15-point Obama lead, could be written off as an outlier. With this second one out, though, it may be time to take these numbers seriously -- or, at least, as seriously as it's worth taking any poll conducted this far away from Election Day. (That is, typically, not very, at least not as a predictor of the final results. But it does provide an interesting snapshot and a sense of what's possible.)

The explanation for the numbers found in these two polls seems to be a high proportion of self-identified Democrats surveyed. Sample composition -- how many Democrats to include, how many Republicans and how many independents -- are questions pollsters will have to wrestle with this cycle. A lot more Americans are identifying as Democrats than in previous years. It may be that the L.A. Times and Newsweek have gotten their proportions right, and that other pollsters have underestimated the size of the Democratic wave this year. Or it could be the other way around. That remains to be seen.

One person who's crowing a little bit about some of Obama's recent numbers is his campaign manager, David Plouffe. A PowerPoint presentation (available here) he gave to fundraisers last week shows some real strengths for Obama. Based on current polling data, Plouffe says, among other things, that Obama is "poised to win [a] historic level of support from women and that he is "turning red states blue" and "winning in traditional battleground states." The only sour note in Plouffe's presentation? The Democratic National Committee's financial situation pales in comparison with its Republican counterpart's.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder has details of the McCain campaign's television advertising buys, which he says amount to about $1.5 million a week. The numbers Ambinder notes give some insight as to where the McCain campaign thinks it can get a boost in potentially key swing states. Some of the numbers are unsurprising, but one detail is striking. The biggest single-market purchase, Ambinder says, has been in Denver. Democrats are holding their convention there this August, and the state -- which has voted for the Republican candidate in nine out of the past 10 elections, with 1992 the only exception -- looks like it may be one of this year's hottest battlegrounds. Colorado has only nine Electoral College votes, but John Kerry was only 18 votes short of victory in the Electoral College in 2004, so those nine votes may matter a whole lot. At this point, it seems possible that McCain won't be able to hang on to them, and this buy could be a sign of worry in his campaign about that prospect.

And, of course, if you haven't seen it yet, for much more insight about this year's swing states and who might win them, read the round table Salon convened to discuss the subject here.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz.