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 Tuesday, October 14, 2008

McCain's Structural Problems

  Read here in Washington Post


Chris Cillizza

The new Washington Post/ABC News national poll puts John McCain behind Barack Obama by 10 points -- his biggest deficit in the survey since the general election began in June.

But, that's not the worst news in the poll for McCain.

A detailed look inside the poll shows just how toxic the national political environment has become for Republicans and suggests that McCain's attempts to deprecate Obama and portray him as a risky pick have, to date, backfired.

To wit:

* Just eight percent of the national sample believe the country is headed in the right direction while a stunning 90 percent believe it is off in the wrong direction. EIGHT PERCENT!

* Twenty-three (23%) percent of voters approve of the job that President Bush is doing -- his lowest rating ever in the Post poll and an approval score that rivals the lowly showing by President Harry Truman in a 1952 Gallup poll.

* Obama's favorable rating are rising (!) while McCain's are faltering.
Nearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) view Obama favorably in the latest poll while 33 percent view him unfavorably. In a September Post poll, Obama's fav/unfav was at 58/36. Compare that to McCain's favorable ratings, which slipped from 59 percent in September to 52 percent now, and his unfavorable ratings, which rose from 36 percent last month to 45 percent now.

* Obama has substantial edges over McCain when voters are asked which candidate is better equipped to handle the issues of the day. That includes a 16-point edge on the economy and a 29-point margin on health care -- the two issues nearly six in ten voters cite as most critical in the fall election. McCain's lone advantage over Obama comes on the issue of terrorism. Forty-nine percent of Americans believe the Arizona senator is better equipped to handle that issue while 43 percent name Obama.

* Nearly seven in ten voters believe Obama is "mainly" addressing the issues while just 26 percent say he is attacking his opponent. McCain, on the other hand, is seen as "mainly" attacking his rival by six in ten voters while just 35 percent said he is focused on issues.

* Fifty-five (53%) percent of the voters believe Obama is a "safe" choice for president while 45 percent said he would be a "risky" choice. On McCain, the sample split right down the middle; 50 percent said he was a "safe" and 50 percent said he would be a "risky" pick for the White House.
That laundry list of data is a stark showcase of the tough odds that McCain faces as he seeks to turn the race around over the next 22 days.

Not only is every leading indicator pointing to this being a change election focused on economic uncertainties but the data in the Post/ABC poll also suggests that McCain's recent tactic of questioning Obama's judgment via his past associations with former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers is not working.

Given these results, it's not terribly surprising that McCain unveiled a new campaign stump speech this morning in Virginia in which he a) cast himself as the underdog b) offered a firm break with Bush and c) toned down the character attacks on Obama.

The most important line in McCain's new speech? "We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: waiting for our luck to change," said McCain in an explicit criticism of the Bush approach to governance.

That new line -- designed to draw a broad line of demarcation between McCain and Bush -- comes even as the Post/ABC poll shows that a majority (51 percent) of voters believe that McCain would "mainly continue" taking the country in the same direction as Bush. Forty-six percent said McCain would lead the country in a "new" direction.

Unless McCain can convince voters -- sometime VERY soon -- that he is not the heir to the Bush legacy, this race, judging from the Post/ABC data, is darn near unwinnable for McCain.

It's a testament to the power of the McCain brand, in fact, that he has been able to keep the contest as close as it has been for the last few months given the absolutely disastrous national political environment.

But, without a drastic change in the political dynamics of the race (and that is ALWAYS possible), McCain's window of victory continues to shrink.

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