A tale of two campaigns

Obama had a magical week, McCain had a bad one, but the polls remain remarkably close.

Published July 26, 2008 11:20AM (EDT)

On Friday the Obama campaign circulated a report noting that John McCain had called a plan for withdrawing American troops from Iraq in 16 months -- Barack Obama's plan, in other words -- "a pretty good timetable." Another day, another odd move by McCain, who has had, by all accounts, a pretty terrible week.

So then why are the polls so close? Yes, Karl Rove's own firm's polling projects a slight Electoral College edge for Obama; most polls give him a slight edge. But given the gulf between the two campaigns in terms of visibility and positive media coverage, as well as in gaffes, I find myself wondering: Why is this race so tight? Why did this week's Quinnipiac Poll show McCain gaining in the key swing states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado and Michigan? That's the topic of this week's Current video (text continues below):

I live in San Francisco, which is of course Obama country, as is my whole state. So I'm in a bubble. An interesting bubble, though: Although Clinton carried California, the most recent Field Poll found that 81 percent of her supporters say they'll vote for Obama, a much bigger share than in other states. If Obama were closing Clinton voters at the same rate everywhere, he'd have a much more comfortable edge. But I assume Obama's lead will open up as the election gets closer and more people tune in to the election, but I can't know for sure.

There's no better symbol, to me, of the past vs. future nature of this election than McCain's insistence on fighting over whether Obama was wrong to oppose the Iraq troop surge. It's a lost argument before it begins; nobody will ever be able to prove either side is right, and Obama is correct to acknowledge his doubts about the surge in 2007, but mainly duck the debate. While McCain continued to flail about the past all week, Obama was looking forward, and I can't help but think looking forward will carry the day. But I'm aware other people see this differently; the McCain campaign seems to be banking on scaring people out of voting for Obama by trashing his judgment, and scaring people certainly worked for George Bush in 2004.

I'll be leaving my political bubble for New York next week, but that's a (wonderful) bubble of its own. I mention that mainly to note that blogging will be lighter from the road; my apologies in advance. Use the comments section to tell me why you think the race is so close.

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections