After almost two years of steady campaigning, the two major party candidates best poised to capture the White House are making a final push for votes this weekend. Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic Party candidate, and Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate, have been crisscrossing the country, making a last minute appeal to supporters to vote on Tuesday.
With polls showing Senator Obama with a lead in states that would tally about 300 electoral votes, his campaign is using its considerable bank account to try to swing a handful of “battleground states” that have been solidly Republican in the past. They include Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Florida and Ohio. In these states, and several others, Senator Obama is running slightly ahead or dead even with Senator McCain. The Republican candidate must hold onto these “red states” if he is to have any chance at winning on Election Day. Conversely, the Obama campaign has comfortable leads in the traditional “blue states” and has not had to fend off a challenge by McCain in Democratic strongholds. The Democrat has been playing offense for the last month, while his opponent has been forced to defend traditionally Republican leaning states.
For the McCain campaign, the challenge is to not lose any of the states that President Bush carried in 2004, while trying to beat Senator Obama in states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan. This has become increasingly difficult for Senator McCain in the closing month of the campaign as polls give Senator Obama a lead in Pennsylvania going into Election Day and he has all but given up in the state of Michigan. McCain is facing an uphill battle against Senator Obama as the Democrat has a large war chest to draw upon to run ads across the country and field volunteers on the street. Perhaps there is no greater indication of his challenge than the fact that the Obama campaign is running ads in Arizona and McCain has had to defend his home turf.
Several factors have positioned the Obama campaign for victory. The first and foremost has been the downturn in the economy. The economic slide has been so severe that even white voters who may have been resistant to Senator Obama due to his race seem to be inclined to put those feelings aside due to their economic insecurity. Also helping the Obama campaign is the abysmal public approval ratings for President Bush as the nation has soured on the present administration and the McCain campaign has also sought to distance itself from the incumbent.
Another factor that appears to be driving voters toward Senator Obama is the Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. While Palin has energized a narrow swath of Republican voters, her presence on the ticket is being questioned by voters, and many Republicans as well, as she has demonstrated little command of the issues and has made several missteps that lead the public to doubt her ability to fulfill the duties of President if she would be called upon to do so during a McCain presidency. Polls have suggested the choice of Palin has backfired on McCain and reports of bickering between the staff of the two running mates seem to indicate the pairing of the two was a strategic blunder.
Money is another factor that has played out well for Senator Obama. His record September haul of $150 million gave him a significant advantage going into the final month of the campaign. His cash has allowed him to flood the airwaves, including last week’s well received 30 minute infomercial, and organize on the ground for the final weeks of the campaign. Even before the September totals were announced, the Obama campaign’s prodigious fundraising operation had provided him with the means to launch aggressive voter registration efforts across the country. The results have been evident. In North Carolina registration has swelled, with young voters, a key bloc for the Democrat, showing the largest increase. In Pennsylvania there have been 492,307 newly registered voters, with Democrats holding a more than 2-1 edge in new registrants. Next door in New Jersey, 489,056 new voters have registered.
While registration does not always equate with turnout, in this election cycle it appears that voters are poised to cast their ballots. Already in states with early voting the turnout has been significant. In Florida, Georgia and North Carolina voters have had to stand in line for hours to cast their ballots. Early canvassing suggests that most of the early votes have leaned toward Senator Obama as many of those showing up have been young voters and Black voters.
While there has been considerable focus on whether Senator Obama would see a racial backlash at the polls or a so-called “Bradley effect,” in reference to the experience of former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley who lost a close election for governor of California over what most observers attributed to white resistance; not enough attention has been given to the tidal wave of support the Democrat is receiving in the Black community. It is not just that Senator Obama is expected to carry the Black vote; it’s the expansion of that vote that may prove pivotal next Tuesday. Throughout the country “Obamamania” is at a pitched level in the Black community. Whether it is older voters, registered voters who have been inactive, or young voters, the Obama candidacy has lit a fire in the Black community. There are few places in Black neighborhoods throughout the country where you can go and not see visible support for Senator Obama, whether it is on t-shirts, bumper stickers, or store front signs. It is a remarkable turn of events considering less than two years ago many Blacks were leery of Senator Obama due to his biracial background.
As the campaigns prepare for Election Day, a larger question looming is ballot security. The nightmare of 2000 in Florida and 2004 in Ohio has many Democrats, and Blacks in particular, on-guard. A significant ballot security operation has been put in place by the Obama campaign, enlisting an army of attorneys, many of them drawn from the National Bar Association, to contest any challenges to voters in states that are known to have questionable balloting procedures. Also causing concern is the use of electronic voting in some states and the lack of an audit trail to verify that votes have indeed been registered as the voter intended and not transferred to another candidate. If there are early indications Tuesday that there are wide scale voting problems similar to 2000 and 2004 the election might be unresolved at the end of the night; a scenario that does not bode well for the nation given how high emotions are running across the country.