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Why a McCain comeback is a long shot

Two days before a historic election Democrat Barack Obama appears to be in a commanding position both in national polls and in the more important state-by-state race for 270 electoral college votes.

world Updated: Nov 03, 2008 00:07 IST
V Krishna

“Don’t count John McCain out” seems to be the received wisdom in American politics.

But while nothing is over till it’s over, two days before a historic election Democrat Barack Obama appears to be in a commanding position both in national polls and in the more important state-by-state race for 270 electoral college votes.

The New York Times, for example, has Obama ahead by 291 electoral college votes to 163 with 84 in the tossup column. It’s 291-160-87, according to CNN. RealClearPolitics puts it at 311-132-95.

Not only is Obama holding on to states that the Democrats captured in 2004, he appears set to take a few the Republicans had won. And the tossups in all three estimates are states President George W Bush captured on his way to defeating John Kerry 286-252.

That makes a comeback difficult. McCain will have to not only hold on to as many red states as possible but also upset the odds and capture some that went to the Democrats last time.

“He is fighting the battle in November in his own territory. But he can’t win by just holding territory; he has to win elsewhere,” says Paul A. Beck, professor of political science at The Ohio State University. “That’s why he is in Pennsylvania. It’s a long shot. It doesn’t look to me like he’s going to win Pennsylvania,” Beck says. “He loses Ohio or Florida, that’s it.”

Pennsylvania is seen as leaning towards Obama in all three projections. While Florida is a tossup, Ohio is classified as tossup or leaning toward Obama.

What about undecided voters and those who could change their mind?

McCain would have to win most of that segment, and pollsters say that’s a tough ask, given that some of them may not vote at all.

What about the Bradley effect, the phenomenon of white voters telling pollsters they will vote for a black candidate so as not to appear racist, but not actually doing so? Most pollsters see little evidence of such an effect.

Even if it does play a role, it is likely to be offset by support for Obama among the young, a group that is under-represented in some polls because many of them use only cell phones and because they are less willing to talk to poll takers, analysts say.