COLUMBUS, Ohio — Five weeks before election day, the tide may be turning toward Barack Obama.
Several things still could swing the contest back toward John McCain, most notably the remaining debates. But as of now, forces are coming together to help Obama just as the long campaign enters the final stretch.
Among the key developments in recent days:
- His performance in Friday night's debate helped assure some nervous voters that he is experienced enough to be commander-in-chief, a critical threshold for the young, first term senator to meet;
- The continuing focus on the economy plays to his political advantage. The Wall Street crisis and proposed bailout guarantees intense attention by voters, and the remaining debates will overwhelmingly focus on it and domestic issues;
- The initial burst of Republican enthusiasm over Sarah Palin may be dampened by shaky performances in TV interviews and skepticism, if not outright hostility, from some conservative columnists.
Nationally, Obama now leads McCain.
A Gallup daily tracking poll Sunday showed Obama opening a 50-42 lead just a week after being locked in a tie. "Obama has gained steadily," Gallup said.
Pollster Scott Rasmussen Sunday reported Obama holding a 50-44 lead nationally and gaining ground in many battleground states. In Ohio, for example, he found McCain's 4 point lead a week ago shrinking to 1 point. "State polling conducted this week generally followed the national trend and confirmed a trend favoring Obama," Rasmussen said.
This doesn't mean it's over.
Obama has opened up similar leads before, after his convention in August and after his overseas trip in July. Each time, he lost that lead and even fell behind.
He showed in the Democratic primaries against Hillary Clinton that he's a weak closer. And both his relative inexperience and race still present challenges for a Democrat who arguably should have a sharp advantage in a year when the Republican president is unpopular and the country is very unhappy with the status quo.
But some fundamentals may be changing late in the campaign that could help him hold and perhaps even build his lead.
For one, the debate may have started to settle the question of whether Obama could be commander-in-chief, a critical test.
One survey of poll watchers for CBS News, for example, found a jump in the ranks of people who believed Obama was prepared to be president. More people still thought McCain prepared, by a margin of 18 percentage points — but a majority for the first time in that poll said the same of Obama.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, a close McCain adviser, conceded that Obama looked good in the debate.
"Senator Obama did well. Senator Obama helped himself, according to the polls," Graham said on Fox News Sunday. He added, however, that McCain still had the edge on who was seen as more prepared. "There's an 18-point difference between who is best able to do the job. We'll take that," Graham said.
Perhaps. But Obama did gain in an area that has been perhaps his most glaring political weakness.
And attention is likely to remain on the economy right up to the election.
Polls show voters prefer Obama over McCain to handle the economy, and at least one Republican strategist thought the Wall Street mess would also help Obama.
"If John McCain loses this election a month from now ...we're going to look back at this last week and see that this is where the campaign changed," Alex Castellanos said on CNN's Late Edition program Sunday.
Finally, Palin's performances in three TV interviews are raising questions among some conservatives, who are using words like atrocious and dreadful to describe her answers.
"Palin filibusters. She repeats words, filling space with deadwood. Cut the verbiage and there's not much content there," conservative writer Kathleen Parker said this week.
Parker called Palin an "attractive, earnest, confident candidate" but also one who is "clearly out of her league."
"I thought Palin was dreadful," National Review editor Rich Lowry said after seeing her interview with CBS. "She had better be better prepared for next week or she risks damaging her political brand forevermore."
Palin still draws huge crowds among the faithful. And she has a high profile chance to regroup when she debates Joe Biden Oct. 2.
But for now, said Asher at Ohio State, "some of the glow is off the Palin nomination."
ON THE WEB
For more on the CBS poll, http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2008/09/26/politics/horserace/entry4482028.shtml
For more on the Gallup tracking poll, http://www.gallup.com/poll/110740/Gallup-Daily-Obama-Moves-50-42-Lead.aspx
For more on the Zogby poll, http://www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1564
To read Kathleen Parker on National Review Online: article
McClatchy Newspapers 2008