Getting To Fifty Percent

With Gallup showing the race tied as of Friday (Obama has a three-point lead in today's tracking poll), Marc writes: "The McCain strategy seems to be: be mean now so we can be magnanimous and nice when more people are paying attention." I don't think this is a crazy approach: You have to make some effort drive up Obama's negatives (and energize the conservative base), and late summer is as good a time as any to do it. The danger for the McCain campaign is that their ability to pull Obama down in tracking polls with snarky ads in August will translate into overconfidence about their ability to push their own candidate up come September and October. It's true that McCain has stayed pretty consistently within striking distance of Obama over the last month, but it's also true that McCain never manages to break 44 percent in the Gallup tracking poll; in the RCP average, likewise, even his recent upward surge has only brought him to ... 44 percent. Which means that McCain needs to win over an awful lot of voters who are currently fluctuating between Obama and "undecided," rather than between Obama and McCain - and I really don't think that making fun of Obama for eating protein bars or demanding that he mention Latin America in his speeches is going to get the job done. Races can be close without being all that fluid, and the fact that McCain rarely drops more than five points behind Obama may be precisely the thing that keeps his campaign from taking the kind of gambles - like, say, a one-term pledge - that he needs to get to fifty percent, or to 270. And when I read in Bill Kristol's column that Team McCain is leaning toward playing it white, male, and boring with the VP pick, with the terrible twosome of Tom Ridge and Mitt Romney (about whom more anon) among the leading contenders, I have the sense that McCain's staff is going to wake up the morning after election day congratulating themselves on having held Barack Obama to "only" 51 percent of the vote.