Charlie Cook: Obama Grand Slam

National Journal columnist says Obama, Democrats on cusp of majority victory.

By Thomas Schaller
Published October 25, 2008 2:54PM (EDT)

Charlie Cook, analyst and National Journal columnist, is saying what superstitious, once-bitten-twice-shy Democrats are privately thinking but won't dare utter:

By every metric, Barack Obama's presidential campaign appears headed for the upper deck. Polls (both national and state-by-state), organization, money, and momentum are all running strongly in Obama's favor. At this point, one wonders whether Obama's winning margin could be greater than Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton's 5.6-point win over President George H.W. Bush in 1992, more than Bush's 7.7-point win over Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988, or more than Clinton's 8.5-point win over Sen. Bob Dole in 1996. Even higher on the landslide roster is California Gov. Ronald Reagan's 9.7-point victory over President Carter in 1980 and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's 10.9-point win over Adlai Stevenson in 1952.

Certainly, the 2008 presidential contest could reverse direction and result in victory for John McCain. But at this point, he would have to be the beneficiary of something quite dramatic for that to happen.

As this campaign has shifted from a surprise-around-every-corner situation to one more akin to watching concrete set, many observers have begun playing "What if?" If McCain had picked someone other than Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, would he now be higher in the polls? If the senator from Arizona had waged this battle more as John McCain 1.0, the 2000-vintage candidate who was more of a maverick and less of a partisan than the 2008 version, could he have succeeded because he was less tied to his Republican Party and less joined at the hip with President Bush?

These are interesting questions, but they avoid one unmistakable fact: This is a toxic political environment for Republicans. That's why they will probably lose at least seven seats in the Senate and at least 20 in the House.

Here's another way to look at the magnitude of a possible grand-slam win: If Obama gets to 54 percent -- roughly an 8-point margin, consistent with Obama's current RealClearPolitics poll-of-poll lead now -- it will be the highest share of the national popular vote received by a non-incumbent president since 1952.

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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