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U.S.: McCain Sinks on Economy, Palin Pick, Negative Attacks

Analysis by Jim Lobe*

WASHINGTON, Oct 11 2008 (IPS) - Overwhelmed by crashing stock markets and what is increasingly seen by even traditional conservatives as a Faustian bargain with the extreme right-wing core of his Republican Party, Sen. John McCain's chances of winning the Nov. 4 presidential elections have fallen sharply over the past three weeks.

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks to a crowd of supporters in Greenville, North Carolina on Oct. 7, 2008. Credit: patrickeasters/flickr

Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks to a crowd of supporters in Greenville, North Carolina on Oct. 7, 2008. Credit: patrickeasters/flickr

Asked by the influential National Journal after the presidential debate Tuesday to estimate Democratic Sen. Barack Obama's chances of defeating McCain, 76 Republican "insiders" rated them on average at 73 percent – up from 53 percent just three weeks ago.

Betters on the two biggest Internet gambling sites agree. The Iowa Electronic Markets (, run by the College of Business of the University of Iowa, is currently rating McCain's chances of winning the White House at less than one in six, significantly worse than the better than one-to-three odds it offered as recently as Sep 29.

Its main competitor, the Intrade Prediction Market (www.intrade.), rates McCain's chances as somewhat better – at around 21.5 percent. But that, too, represents a substantial drop from the 39 percent chance it gave him ten days ago. In mid-September, less than one month ago, Intrade was giving McCain roughly even odds with Obama.

Meanwhile, one of the most closely-monitored poll websites,, is now rating Obama's chances of winning the election in the all-important electoral college at just over 90 percent, up from 80 percent at the end of September.

"(A)ny world in which McCain has a chance to win on Election Day is a world that looks very different from this one – some significant event will have to have occurred to fundamentally change the momentum of the race," noted the website's founder and chief analyst, Nate Silver, Friday after the publication of a spate of new polls from key "swing states" where the election will be decided.

According to those polls, Obama is not only widening his leads in states won by former Vice President Al Gore in 2000 and by Sen. John Kerry in 2004, he has also drawn even with or even surpassed McCain in several key states – notably in Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, and even North Carolina – that McCain must win in order to have any chance of prevailing.

McCain's decline also is increasingly threatening Republicans hopes of minimising their anticipated losses in Congressional races.

Before this week, Democrats had been expected to pick up at least five seats in the Senate, bringing their total there to 56. But new polls published this week suggest that several other states where Republican incumbents were expected to win are now considered either too close to call or leaning Democratic. If all of them went Democratic – roughly a 25 percent chance, according to 538's statistical models – the party would gain a filibuster-proof 60 seats.

As for the House of Representatives, Democrats believe they could gain as many as 30 seats, giving them 60 percent of the 435 seats, their largest majority since 1934 when Democratic dominance of Congress reached its zenith under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

McCain's and the Republican plunge is being blamed primarily on the ongoing financial crisis; U.S. stocks fell Friday for the eight straight day, capping one of the worst weeks since the 1929 Crash that set off the Great Depression with which the current situation is being increasingly compared.

While McCain repeatedly insisted during Tuesday's debate that he knew how to restore trust and confidence in the financial system, he was noticeably more vague than Obama who repeatedly reminded the audience of more than 60 million viewers that, throughout his career in Congress, including during George W. Bush's presidency – which last week hit the lowest approval ratings of any presidency in the last 56 years – McCain had supported deregulation measures that are widely seen as one of the main causes of the current crisis.

"John McCain has lost control of the economic issue, and the debate over the financial crisis has made voters doubt him," according to veteran Democratic pollster Peter Hart whose assessment, significantly, was quoted by one of the capital's chief public-opinion gurus, the Journal's Charlie Cook.

As to the debate itself and the polls, particularly of independent voters, taken immediately afterward, Silver concluded that Obama had won "according to essentially every objective metric." Indeed, those surveys showed that Obama prevailed – often by large margins – not only with respect to the question of who performed better, but also who was more trustworthy and presidential.

"John McCain needed a breakthrough during Tuesday night's debate," wrote Cook in his weekly Friday column. "If he got it, I must have been watching the wrong channel. The heightened economic and credit crisis has effectively changed the venue of this election to turf that is virtually unwinnable for a Republican presidential candidate."

But if the financial crisis – a crisis that Republicans had vainly hoped would have been behind them after last week's Congressional approval of the administration's 700-billion- dollar bailout package – best explains the plunge in McCain's electoral chances, it appears that his surrender to the right-wing base of the party – signaled most dramatically by his selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running-mate, as well as her performance in both her rare and highly scripted media interviews and on the stump – is also a major contributing factor.

While Palin has largely succeeded in energising the party's ideological core, virtually ever poll published in the last three weeks, including those following her debate with Obama's running-mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, has shown that she is acting as a drag on the ticket among all-important independent voters, who make up about a third of the electorate.

Friday’s publication by a Republican-dominated Legislative Council of a report in which a special investigator found that Palin had abused her power as governor in seeking the dismissal of her ex-brother-in-law from the state police will clearly raise new questions about her fitness for the vice presidency.

Moreover, her apparent role as the spear point for attacks on Obama's "character" – including his past associations with William Ayers, a University of Chicago education professor who was a leader of the terrorist Weather Underground 40 years ago and black liberation theologian Rev. Jeremiah Wright – as well as the increasingly angry and openly hostile crowds that she is drawing to her rallies appear to be alienating more traditional, conservative Republicans.

Earlier this week, neo-conservative David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column that Palin "represents a fatal cancer to the Republican Party," while, in an open letter to McCain published in the Baltimore Sun Friday, former Christian Right leader and one-time McCain supporter, author Frank Schaeffer, warned McCain that his and Palin's joint rallies "are beginning to look sound, feel and smell like lynch mobs".

"If your campaign does not stop equating Sen. Barack Obama with terrorism, questioning his patriotism and portraying (him) as 'not one of us,' I accuse you of deliberately feeding the most unhinged elements of our society the red meat of hate, and therefore of potentially instigating violence," he wrote.

Even more dramatic in its own way was the announcement Friday by essayist and one-time McCain speech-writer Christopher Buckley, son of the intellectual founder of the modern conservative Republican movement, William F. Buckley, that he will vote Obama for president.

Noting that his father once told him, "You know, I've spent my entire lifetime separating the Right from the kooks," Christopher, who has known and supported McCain personally since 1982 and still writes a column for his father's National Review, wrote, "Sarah Palin is an embarrassment, and a dangerous one at that."

*Jim Lobe's blog on U.S. foreign policy, and particularly the neo-conservative influence in the Bush administration, can be read at

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