Until recently, Barack Obama’s lead in the polls appeared insurmountable. The presumptive Democratic nominee’s message of change seemed to be resonating with the American public, while his Republican counterpart’s efforts to endear himself to evangelical voters was proving largely fruitless. In July, for example, polling website electoral-vote.com had Obama leading his opponent by over 100 electoral college votes. Similarly, the results of a national poll released in mid-June showed Obama holding a healthy 15 point lead over McCain.
Over the last few weeks, however, Obama’s lead has shrunk dramatically. Pollster.com shows him leading by less than 70 electoral college votes, with states like Indiana and Missouri – until recently considered winnable by Obama – trending Republican.
Electoral-vote.com paints an even worse picture for Obama fans. According to its calculations, McCain is leading in the vitally-important swing states of Ohio and Florida and, to a lesser extent, Colorado. Under this scenario, Obama’s margin over McCain is a measly 3 electoral votes; a virtual dead-heat. Should the election unfold along these lines, Virginia, the only remaining state in the ‘undecided’ column, would decide the presidency. Both candidates have a realistic shot of taking Virgina – but it’s hardly the situation Obama expected to be in as the summer draws to a close.
So what happened? Are people fed up with his incessant, ambiguous demands for ‘change?’ Perhaps. More likely, though, is that McCain’s negative attack ads are finally having an impact. Joan Walsh, writing in Salon, notes: “John McCain’s decision to slime Barack Obama … seems to be paying off in the short term, judged by his recent climb in many polls.” And a host of news outlets and editorial boards have offered similar analyses.
McCain appears to be taking a page out of Bush and Rove’s playbook. A cursory glance at 2004 polling data reveals a striking similarity between the two election cycles: during the summer of ’04, Kerry led Bush by several dozen electoral college votes and looked poised to take back the Oval Office for Democrats. However, shortly after the launch of the now-infamous Swift Boad ads, Kerry’s lead began to evaporate. Of course, we all know how that story ends.
Is a similar fate in store for Obama? Hopefully not. Already, he’s started to fight back. According to an article in today’s Independent, Obama is “now running an uplifting national advertising campaign while delivering fierce attacks on his opponent at the local level in key swing states [Emphasis added].”
While some would say that Obama’s new strategy is hypocritical given his pledge to “transcend the bickering of national politics,” I think it’s about damn time he started to fight back. Negative campaigns win, whether we like it or not. And, to be perfectly honest, I’d rather see Obama take the White House with a vitriolic campaign than lose it with an “uplifting one.”
Regardless, if he doesn’t manage to reverse his sliding poll numbers soon, negative campaign ads could be the least of Obama’s worries.