Yogi Berra got it right. “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.”
On November 1, 1948 Thomas E. Dewey led Harry S. Truman by 5 percent, 49.5 percent to 44.5 percent in the Gallup Poll, but on election day Truman beat Dewey by 4.4 percent, 49.5 percent to 45.1 %.
On October 27, 1980 Jimmy Carter led Ronald Reagan by 6 percent, 45 percent to 39 percent in the Gallup Poll, but on election day Reagan beat Carter by 9.8 %, 50.8 percent to 41.0 %.
Will history repeat itself in 2008?
Barack Obama leads John McCain in (1) nationwide polling data, (2) polling data among key groups, and (3) fund raising. Compared with McCain, Obama has more charisma and crowd appeal, better speaking ability, and a superior political organization. And he could win several “red” or Republican states, which are must-win states for McCain.
Meanwhile, McCain has an albatross around his neck, one of history’s most unpopular presidential administrations, and the economic crisis has deflected attention from his signature issue, the successful surge in Iraq.
2008 is Obama’s to lose. But so it was for Dewey and Carter.
Dewey appeared destined to win in 1948. After four Democratic administrations, which included the economic and social problems of the Great Depression and World War II and its aftermath, the handsome, suave, and debonair Dewey should have won, but he fell victim to overconfidence and arrogance, which enabled the feisty Truman to mount a successful “whistle-stop” campaign against a “Do-Nothing Republican Congress.”
Carter had history on his side in 1980. Only once since the Civil War had the incumbent party in the White House lost a bid for reelection after its first term. But Americans chose optimism over pessimism, preferring Reagan’s “It’s morning in America” to Carter’s “malaise in America.”
In 2008, however, Barack Obama’s lead appears insurmountable.
On Tuesday, October 28, one week before the election, RealClearPolitics.com averaged 9 nonpartisan polls to report (1) a 3 to 12 percent margin nationally for Obama over McCain with an average lead of 6.2 percent, down from 7.4 percent on Monday, and (2) a lead for Obama in each of seven key battleground states, Colorado, Missouri, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, and Nevada.
But could Yogi Berra be right once again? Yes, if the following occur in the Electoral College, in Obama's campaign, and on key issues and with key groups.
If the reliably “red” Republican states of Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia return to the McCain column and if he retains all other states now in his column, McCain would have 260 of the necessary 270 electoral votes to win. Each of these reliably “red” Republican states is within striking distance for a McCain victory.
Then if McCain either wins Pennsylvania, a “blue” state, or puts together the right combination of wins in Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, and New Mexico, he would win the Electoral College vote.
If the Obama campaign exudes an overconfidence that strikes Americans as inappropriate and premature, McCain could gain momentum. Already news has leaked that the Obama campaign may be organizing the largest victory celebration in presidential campaign history and that plans for the presidential transition are underway.
If McCain benefits from more turning points, such as Obama’s encounter with “Joe, the plumber,” or gaffs by Joe Biden, the momentum could shift in his favor.
If the Obama campaign fails to win at least 96 percent of an enlarged African-American vote and the votes of White Democrats in key conservative areas, such as southwestern Pennsylvania, McCain’s campaign would receive a significant boost.
Key Issues and Groups
If McCain can gain traction on the issue of taxes, he could reap a harvest of votes from voters who do not like Obama’s ideas for redistributing wealth.
If the pro-life and other Family Values issues energize Roman Catholic and Evangelical voters in Pennsylvania and other key states, they could turn the tide in favor of McCain.
If a substantial bloc of Jewish voters moves into the McCain column, they could help him carry Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Some reports suggest that McCain may win as much as 30 percent of the Jewish vote, which is substantially more than what George W. Bush won in 2000 and 2004.
If undecided voters, who may number 8 percent or so of the electorate, turn to McCain, they could make the difference for him in the battleground states. During the Democratic primaries, undecided voters broke for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama, enabling her to win New Hampshire and carry most of the large states. In breaking for Clinton, undecided voters appeared to choose experience over youth and a call for change.
If McCain can make the case that the American people need him to check a very unpopular Congress led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid, he may yet turn the tide.
Possible? Yes. Probable? No. But to that Yogi would say, “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.”