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Posted by on Aug 20, 2008 in Politics | 19 comments

Poll: McCain Overtakes Obama With Five Point Lead Amid Other Polls Showing Obama Weakening

A new Reuters/Zogby poll indicates Republican Senator John McCain has now shaken up the Presidential race: he is no longer the underdog and has taken a 5 point lead over Democratic Senator Barack Obama — who is seen as steadily weakening in a series of other recent polls.

McCain’s lead in the polls means the race’s dynamics have now changed. The “given” that, with the political and economic factors aligned against McCain and the GOP, the Democrats were virtually-certain to win now vanishes. The poll also shows Obama steadily losing ground among some key groups — a consequence of the past few weeks when McCain has been on the offensive and Obama has been on the defensive…or away on vacation.

Meanwhile, the poll says Obama and the Democrats shouldn’t assume a four-person race will help Obama: his polling is just as tepid.

As Russian tanks rolled into the Republic of Georgia and the presidential candidates met over the weekend in the first joint issues forum of the fall campaign, the latest polling includes drama almost as compelling – Republican John McCain has taken a five-point lead over Democrat Barack Obama in the race for President, the latest Reuters/Zogby telephone survey shows.

McCain leads Obama by a 46% to 41% margin.

And McCain not only enjoys a five-point edge in a two-way race against Obama, but also in a four-way contest including liberal independent candidate Ralph Nader and Libertarian Bob Barr, the poll reveals. In the four-way contest, McCain wins 44% support, Obama 39%, Barr 3% and Nader 2%.

This poll is in stark contrast to just one month ago when Obama led McCain 47-40 percent and in a four-person race led by 10 points. It shows Obama is losing ground among Democrats, women, young voters, southerners and Catholics.

McCain’s surge follows a month in which he has aggressively portrayed Obama as an out-of-touch elitist and celebrity not prepared to be President. McCain also continues to accuse Obama of being willing to lose in Iraq in order to win the election. While Obama was on vacation last week, McCain took the spotlight, talking tough about Russia’s military action against the Republic of Georgia.

Pollster John Zogby: “Since Obama returned from his overseas trip, it seems like McCain has thrown all the punches. Clearly, the blows have landed. In recent days, Obama is fighting back, going after McCain on the economy, the issue voters care about most. McCain has changed the dynamic of the race heading into the two conventions. That puts more pressure on Obama to go to Denver and effectively define himself and McCain.”

A look at some other polls brings similarly bad news for Obama and Democrats, who due to Obama’s performance and Republicans greater party unity could be poised to lose yet another election that earlier had been painted by pundits as a near sure thing. Clearly, the devil is in the “near”. Just look at these:

–A new L.A. Times poll put the race at a statistical dead heat and a map by Rove&Co shows Obama losing ground in some keys…altering previous calculations showing him with a comfy electoral vote lead.

The CNN poll of polls shows McCain has cut Obama’s lead in half.

The latest Gallup Daily tracking poll shows Obama down to a one point, statistically meaningless lead over McCain, 45 percent to 44 percent.

Rasmussen still shows Obama with a three point lead over McCain but notes a movement benefits McCain:

While the race for the White House remains stable, there is movement beneath the surface. The number of voters who say McCain is too old for the job has declined while the number who say Obama is too inexperienced has moved up a bit. Voters are now evenly divided as to whether Obama has enough experience for the job.

This means McCain’s use of Senator Hillary Clinton’s so-called “Three A.M.” strategy stressing Obama’s inexperience is reaping political dividends for McCain.

In an extensive CNN analysis, Republican David Gergen, who advised Presidents of both parties in the White House, noted that the game has now changed given a variety of factors, including McCain’s recent appearance with Obama at Saddleback Church — and that it is now conceivable McCain could win the White House:

Heading into the candidates’ appearances on Saturday night at Saddleback Church, the conventional wisdom in politics was Barack Obama should have a clear upper hand in any joint appearance with John McCain — one the young, eloquent, cool, charismatic dude who can charm birds from the trees, the other the meandering, sometimes bumbling, old fellow who can barely distinguish Sunnis from Shiias.

Well, kiss that myth goodbye.

Gergen’s argument: Obama didn’t lose supporters by his appearance, but McCain has shown he is formidable because he was “on fire” at Saddleback.

At Saddleback, Obama surely held on to his base support but McCain strengthened his and probably appealed to some undecideds, too.

In short, the tide is moving for the first time in the Republican direction. And the realization is setting in that McCain might just win.

He offers these suggestions on what the Democrats will need to turn the trending — due to not just McCain’s performance but Obama’s increasingly weak performances when judged beside McCain’s on the stump, in terms of advisers’ political smarts, and at Saddleback:

* Obama must select a running mate who gives a lift to his campaign and can also hammer home a message in the convention and in the vice presidential debate this fall. He definitely needs a fighter by his side. (For my money, Hillary Clinton looks better and better; if not her, Joe Biden is probably the best fighter — perhaps Evan Bayh, or a surprise choice.)

* The Democratic convention in Denver has to be a roaring success, not only uniting the party but sending a much clearer, crisper message about why 4 more years will be 4 more years of tears.

* Obama himself must find his voice again, not only in his acceptance address but in the debates. He needs to bring passion as well as inspiration, a clear sense of what the choice is, and a compelling sense of why he is strong enough as well as wise enough to lead the country through tough times.

Can it be done?

Remember that weeks ago some pundits considered McCain’s campaign hopeless due to the obstacles he faced, his campaigning style, and his seeming inability to seize and hold onto controlling the day’s political news story. It has been turned around with negative campaigning (which clearly works), Obama’s seemingly being a step behind McCain and his advisers, Obama being on the defensive more than on the offensive and McCain regaining the fire in his belly. So it can be done…as McCain has shown.

But at this point it looks like Barack Obama is yet one more Democrat — added to candidates such as Michael Dukakis, Al Gore and John Kerry — who allowed Republican strategists to negatively brand them in the summer months. The difference: most of those candidates were solidly ahead in some polls going into their political conventions.

Is the game over already? Talk Left’s Big Tent Democrat, one of the mosts perceptive bloggers on the left, writes:

Having been joined now by a chorus of Obama blogs in concern with Obama’s post partisan unity schtick campaign, I am somewhat amused that no one noticed the problem before.

Obama has experience in that message no doubt (“Hillary will say or do anything to get elected”) but it won’t work on McCain because the Media will not play along. The problem is Obama has never gone after Republicans and specifically tied them to Bush (he of the 25% approval rating.) People are making this more complicated than it is. All you have to send as a message is not McCain – flip flopper or anything like that, you say McCain – Bush’s third term. Period, That is the negative branding that should be driven home every single day. That should be Obama’s message every single day. But Dems don’t do negative branding, they just get branded.

And on Election Day?

Obama is likely to win. What he has done is lost the chance to put the election away already. The political conditions are such that Obama could run the worst campaign in history and still win. The GOP brand is that bad. But he is right that Obama squandered these two months.

An optimistic assessment?

Obama, his advisers and spinners have shown self-assurance. What they have to show now is political smarts because current polls now suggest a campaign that has been outfoxed and is flat-footed.

Just weeks ago, McCain had been accused by many of squandering the long Democratic primary season and remaining stagnant in the polls. Now it can be argued that Obama has squandered his lead — and let McCain effectively define him before he has effectively defined McCain.

UPDATE: MSNBC’s First Read nails the shift:

Nevertheless, there is no longer this widespread belief among the wise guys and gals of both parties that we’re all just sitting around waiting for this race to break in Obama’s direction. The polls — as well as the money race — suggest otherwise. The political fundamentals (the mood of the country, the enthusiasm gap, Bush’s approval rating) still favor Obama. But something has changed where (1) Obama can’t make many more mistakes and expect to win and (2) the McCain camp thinks it can win. That wasn’t the case a few months ago.

UPDATE II: Obama’s problems with Hillary Clinton backers show no sign of abating…and in fact are increasingly glaring. The Chicago Tribune:

A brother of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and local Democrats who backed her unsuccessful presidential campaign socialized privately Monday with a top surrogate of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The private gathering featured Carly Fiorina, Mr. McCain’s top economic adviser, and took place at the Dunmore home of political consultant Jamie Brazil, a longtime friend of Mrs. Clinton’s family who has signed on as paid national director of Mr. McCain’s Citizens for McCain Coalition.

The attendees included Tony Rodham, Mrs. Clinton’s youngest sibling, his wife, Megan, and their two children; attorney Kathleen Granahan Kane, who coordinated Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign in Northeast Pennsylvania during the primary election; and Virginia McGregor, sister of Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty.

With the Democratic National Convention less than a week away, the gathering raises questions about the support Illinois Sen. Barack Obama can expect from former local supporters of Mrs. Clinton, who dominated at the polls in the Northeast in the April primary election. Mrs. Clinton won 74 percent of Lackawanna County Democrats to Mr. Obama’s 26 percent.


Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey:

Obama is in a free-fall. McCain got to the heart of the question about Obama, and especially after the crisis in Georgia, he has voters wondering whether Obama is up to the task of running the presidency as his first executive job in politics. Even a strong VP pick may not help reverse that perception — and could make it worse by overshadowing the nominee. Democrats may not have been in a weaker position at convention time since 1984.

The Other McCain:

The shift began during the Europe trip, when Team Maverick went on the attack on drilling, then unleashed the “celebrity” message — and kept repeating it, even after Team Obama screamed “racism.”

And let me remind Allah of his prophecy: “Let Obama’s numbers drop another three or four points and we’ll see how they feel about negative ads then.”

Daily Kos’ JFKDemocrat looks at the new poll and analyzes Obama’s missteps. Here are the first lines of each point:

1. While Obama is the source of more coverage it is McCain who is driving the campaign agenda.
2. The Clintons are silently campaigning against Obama; they want him to lose plain and simple.
3. The inability to hang Bush & Cheney around McCain’s neck is hurting.
4. The trip to Europe and the middle-east at the same time was overkill.
5. The VP selection process was too long; the fact is Obama should have rolled this out soon after he came back from his trip to Europe.

He also writes:

The bottom-line is that we are heading into the fall campaign much closer than I would have expected. Don’t expect Obama to get a big bounce out of the convention or the debates. The way this thing is shaping up is that the only way that Obama will win is if he really does have a superior ground game. Now, in fairness I trust Obama and his team, but even really smart and capable people make mistakes. I hope I am wrong, but I have been around politics a very long time and the fact is we are Democrats, no one knows how to screw up a sure thing like us.

Ann Althouse on the latest poll:

And this poll was taken from August 14-16, before the Saddleback Civil Forum which, it seems, will McCain. Obama needs a smashingly good convention week.

Americablog’s Robert Arena has an extensive poll analysis which needs to be read in full. A few key quotes:

While some here think everything is going just fine, and that Obama has a secret plan lying in wait, I ask you to think back a year ago. Imagine if someone had told you that the most charismatic Democratic speaker in a decade would be in a dead-heat with a Republican has-been corrupt waffler – you would have laughed in their face. After eight years of George Bush? No way, people are fed up – that’ll never happen.

Well, that’s the reality today. This race is a dead heat and is up for grabs both in the national polls as well as in key states like Ohio, Florida, Missouri, etc. Face reality folks – something isn’t working.


Not all is lost folks, Obama has time and money to make a shift. But if you thought that somehow this year was going to be different – something would change and somehow the American electorate would look completely different this year than any other year, the numbers today just don’t show that. This isn’t a transformative election, it’s another hardscrabble, claw out each and every vote, election. To win that kind of election, you need to fight for every vote and fight hard. That’s why you hear the concern you hear from Josh Marshall, John, Joe, etc. And it’s backed up by years of experience watching the Republicans make Democrats look weak – Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry. That line of attack works when not countered and we were defeated. None of us want that in 2008.

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  • Elyas

    Political junkies tend to get a little too caught up in who’s winning each media cycle and the latest polls. Yes, we’ve seen an identifiable trend recently, and Obama is losing some ground. But look at how they’re investing money. McCain has millions to burn through before he accepts public financing, so he’s investing in negative ads and trying to define Obama on a national level. He has an incentive to spend money right now. Obama is budgeting for the next few months and putting much, much more into building ground operations in swing states. Basically, Obama is making a long-term investment and McCain is going for the immediate return.

    It’s not surprising that we’re seeing a dip in Obama’s numbers (and it’s not good news), but it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest he may have already lost the election. Obama is building a far superior GOTV operation. We’re not going to know which strategy (ground game vs. airwaves) will pay off until election day.

  • Jim_Satterfield

    It’s August. It’s the middle of the Olympics. Next week is the Democratic National Convention. In other words it’s way too early to be calling the election.

  • Marlowecan

    Obama will be elected president in November. . . regardless of these polls.

    I say this, and I am not even an Obama supporter.
    (Folks might recall, I was right about the negative potential of Obama’s celebrity status . . . and right about the power of McCain’s “Celeb” ad . . . but I also believe I am right in predicting an Obama Presidency, based on the current situation.)

    Big Tent Democrat is wrong when he says McCain will lose because “The GOP brand is that bad.”
    Presidential elections are about personalities . . . they override party branding.
    Look at how Gerald Ford, behind Carter by 30+ points in the summer of 76, pulled to within 3 points by the election . . . despite the legacy of Nixon and the GOP brand!

    The reason why Obama will win, and McCain will lose:
    **You can’t beat something with nothing.**

    When folks recall Bush Sr. v. Dukakis, they think of Atwater’s “Willie Horton” negative ads. They don’t recall the brilliance of Peggy Noonan’s “kinder, gentler” conservatism and the “Thousand Points of Light” . . . which defined Bush Sr. in a positive way against the tired legacy of Reaganism.

    McCain has done brilliantly in taking Obama down for his celebrity status. BUT, he has done nothing to define himself positively in the 21st century. When you think of John McCain one thinks of a gutsy POW a generation ago.

    Obama has a remarkable platform for change. One might disagree with the platform and policies — for example, I consider Obama’s health care policy too right wing (yes . . . you read that right!) — but it exists.

    McCain has nothing remotely similar. A tax policy that makes students of economics cringe. A drilling policy that is purely political. A health policy that is . . . well, non-existent.

    Now all this could change. McCain could pivot from negativity to define himself positively. McCain could also tap into the GOP GOTV viral network that blew away the Democrats in 2004.

    But at the present moment . . . for the reasons above . . . I think we are looking at an Obama Presidency.

    I challenge Obama supporters here — who may believe the sky is falling — to find fault in this logic.

  • GeorgeSorwell

    I don’t think the sky is falling. But I don’t think Obama has it in the bag either.

    John McCain’s success is, I think, a result of his foreign policy belligerence. As such, it’s a potent reminder of how we got into the Iraq War, even though the Iraq War is unpopular now.

    • Marlowecan

      GeorgeSorwell said: “John McCain’s success is, I think, a result of his foreign policy belligerence. As such, it’s a potent reminder of how we got into the Iraq War, even though the Iraq War is unpopular now.”

      George . . . should that belligerence not make voters nervous about McCain then, given Iraq and the overstretched situations of the US armed forces?

      Actually, I believe McCain’s belligerence is a weakness for him. He is ahead, I believe, purely by his defining Obama as a “dumb blonde”. That definition cannot be sustained after the debates, in which Obama invariably shows himself thinking carefully in response to answers.

  • Marlowecan

    Reading Joe’s Updates to this story, I would further cite Karl Rove in support of my argument for an Obama win. (Yes, I know Rove is not popular at TMV, but he is a very insightful pol. operative).

    Rove revised the doctrine of Nixon’s “permanent campaign”…noting that the MSM hostility to Bush meant there was no way Bush could win every day of the campaign. Bush just had to win the key days . . . and peak at the point of the election. So Rove kept up morale by instructing the campaign to ignore the polls, and the gleeful declarations that Bush was now toast.

    It does not matter that Obama is at par now. In many ways, it is good . . . recall Democrats invariably peak at the convention . . . and blow it in November. Does no one remember this?

    Obama will go negative. That was inevitable (only a naif would believe otherwise). BUT Obama has a positive message for the future to balance this.

    At present, McCain is hammering Obama with negativity. But there is nothing positive about McCain’s campaign and his promise for the future. This will clarify itself for voters as the election approaches.

    Finally, expectations for Obama have been reduced going into the debates. That is excellent, and can only help him.

    Yep, against the prevailing wind, based on current conditions . . . I still predict an Obama presidency.

  • greenschemes


    McCain does not need a very broad policy. In fact time and time again it is proven that one only needs one or two issues to define the entire presidential bid. “Its the economy stupid.” “1000 points of light” “Drill, drill, drill.” Forget not how rudderless McCain was until he narrowed his campaign down to a couple defining items.

    Drill. Obama’s rockstardom.

    The problem with Obama is that he has a 1000 pages of policy positions and McCain has a couple paragraphs. This is exactly as it should be in a time when we need to leave Iraq and balance the budget and pay down the debt.

    Americans are starting to realize the future is not so bright when they have so much debt that they cant pay their own bills. They are starting to see that with their government too.

    I have heard it said many times and I believe it. This is not Obama’s time. His time is to come when the government has the money, resources and the ability to embrace his programs. Next year we will stagger around under a massive debt and we are certainly not going to be able to pay for the things Obama wants to do.

    • Marlowecan

      Greenschemes said: “The problem with Obama is that he has a 1000 pages of policy positions and McCain has a couple paragraphs.”

      I agree with regard to the 1000 pages v. couple of paragraphs.
      Your point is very interesting. For example, it reflects Reagan’s advantage over Carter. Reagan understood very clearly the Soviet challenge, in a way Carter never did.

      But we are in a different era . . . multipolar, and arguably more complex. Obama’s policy depth here is a clear strength, I believe, over McCain’s “shallow end” policies.

      “Americans are starting to realize the future is not so bright when they have so much debt that they cant pay their own bills.”

      Your point here is excellent! BUT this is precisely Obama’s advantage, as Obama’s tax policy is realistic (yes, he has a lot of promises to pay for…for all politicians do this during elections. Folks seem to shrug at costing – unless it is framed negatively, as Reagan did with “tax and spend” Democrats.)

      BUT if Obama can frame this policy in a way you suggest — America is not paying its bills, and just as everyone needs to pay their credit card so does the US — he will easily beat McCain on this point.

      How much longer can the US rely on China to support it financially? Are Americans will to face the little humiliations of being a debtor nation to a Chinese despotism?

  • GeorgeSorwell


    McCain’s belligerence makes me nervous.

    Considering the results of Bush’s belligerence, I certainly do think everyone should be nervous.

    But I have the sense that being tough is making McCain popular.

    • Marlowecan

      GeorgeSorwell said: “But I have the sense that being tough is making McCain popular.”

      Perhaps you are right, GeorgeS. I disagree, as I believe most people are clueless about Georgia . . . and care even less during August holidays.

      It is a fine line between strength and angry belligerence. McCain is certainly on that line now (who wants a fight with Russia, over Georgia, with a 100,000+ troops in Iraq?). It would not take very much for Obama’s team to frame him negatively on that score.

      I concede that Obama’s team has been caught flat-footed by McCain’s ad-based resurgence . . . and they need to ramp up their own ad buys . . . there is more than enough time to do this.

      More importantly:

      In the Presidential debates, Americans — who probably have not focused on Obama, beyond seeing him on magazine covers — will see a man who responds thoughtfully to questions, with a substantial depth. I.E. not a “dumb blonde” celebrity!

      This will negate McCain’s KEY (perhaps only) advantage to date. Obama supporters should think about that.

  • lurxst

    Alas for John McCain, many are starting to see the light. He is still his own worst enemy (next to the GOP).

  • GeorgeSorwell


    I hate to seem like I’m beating a dead horse here, but of course most people are clueless about Georgia and care even less.

    But McCain seems tough. Just like President Bush seemed tough.

    • Marlowecan

      Point taken, GS. You are right, of course, about the value of “seeming”.

      Of course, what if President McCain feels compelled to justify appearances by reality with a conflict over Georgia?

      It is one thing to stand up to the Russians over clearly defined principles of strategic value — like Reagan and long battle over stationing of missles in W. Europe to counterbalance Soviet SS-20s — but McCain’s shouting about Georgia is disturbing.

      Georgia has been in the Russian sphere since the Czarist empire. It is on the other side of the Black Sea, after all. How would Americans react were Russia to rattle swords in the U.S. back yard?

      Like yourself, I find McCain shouting on this issue troubling. I hope you are wrong, however, about people being impressed by it.

  • diosd

    Democrats keep saying that this election is about a Bush third term. Though his approval numbers may be low that doesn’t mean that Americans wouldn’t vote for him again. They voted for hime twice. Barak’s favorable numbers are dropping and McCains are going up. McCain will pull this out on election day bcause his policies are more in line with American voters especially independents of which I am one. It will be a close race though.

  • DLS

    “[McCain] has done nothing to define himself positively in the 21st century.”

    That is true in general for the GOP overall, too.

    • Marlowecan

      Interesting links, DLS. Thanks for posting.

      The voting markets have been generally accurate in the past, and one sees a consistent trend here.

  • DLS

    Wait until after the convention and the VP choice, and better, until the debates.

    In the meantime, the picture remains pretty much as it has been. There is some convergence but Obama remains the leader. And what do you hear on the street?

  • skippy

    polls tightening as campaign draws on? what other headlines do the pundits scream about? dog bites man? sky is blue? goldstein quits blogging?

    i’m not saying that obama will win regardless, i’m saying that to have expected him to maintain such a lead thru-out the campaign, and then to pound one’s chest in anxious bemoaning when he didn’t, is entering drama queen territory.

  • skippy

    hey how do you get a kewl icon for your posts like marlowecan has?

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