Amazing new numbers from Quinnipiac today, showing Obama with substantial leads -- and at or above 50% -- in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. If those numbers are accurate, the election is over.
But even if they overstate the situation, it's clear that those states are moving in Obama's direction. Meanwhile, a new Pew poll has nothing but good news for Obama, showing him up 7 points among registered and 6 points among likely voters. More importantly, in swing states the race has gone from a tie in mid-September to an incredible 52-39 lead after Friday's debate. The big change seems to have come among people age 30-64 earning $50,000 or more -- working people with families likely scared silly by the economic crisis of the past two weeks. The Pew study also finds voter's views of Obama getting more and more favorable, which will make it harder and harder for McCain to convince them not to vote for him.
McCain now has a very tough road to victory. He can't make up this ground without increasing Obama's negatives, but his best opportunities to drag Obama's image down on a national level are behind him: the nominating convention and the first debate. (The first debate is always the most-watched and most influential, but even moreso for McCain because it focussed on foreign policy, the area where he presumably has the best opportunity to scare people about Obama's unreadiness.)
McCain can pound away at Obama through advertising -- although he hasn't found an effective formula in two months of trying -- but he now appears to have too many battlegrounds.
If the election were held today, it seems clear that Obama would hold all the states Kerry won, with the exception of New Hampshire, and would add New Mexico, Iowa, and Colorado. That gets him to 269 electoral votes, for a tie that Obama would presumably win in the House of Representatives.
That means that McCain must win back at least one of those states -- so he needs to advertise heavily in some combination of Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
But at the same time, he needs to hold onto a string of states not included in that 269 calculation above, where McCain is now trailing or leading only slightly: Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, Virginia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Indiana.
That list of close states may grow as new state polls come out, reflecting the recent shift seen in that Pew poll and elsewhere. Already we've seen a poll showing McCain's lead drop to single digits in Georgia, for example.
Unless Obama makes a major misstep, it seems to me that McCain needs to somehow seriously damage Obama in the final two debates. That will mean attacking hard and shamelessly -- a risk that, if it fails, will likely do more damage to McCain, and make his challenge even more difficult.