Obama’s nightmare: Notes from the campaign trail

By MIRIAM GRACE A. GO, Newsbreak

Posted at Nov 05 2008 09:45 AM | Updated as of Nov 06 2008 09:08 PM

Morning of election day in Plainsville, a neighboring city of Cleveland, we randomly approached voters who had cast their votes and—surprise, surprise—two in every three said they voted for McCain.

Okay, so a dozen people could is not an acceptable sample in a scientific survey, but it did give me the idea that it could indeed be dead heat.

Why make an observation based on some city called Plainsville, you’d ask? Plainsville is part of Lake County, which, according to board of elections director Dale Fellows, is a “bellwether county”—it has, because of the diversity of its communities, represented the numbers in the entire Ohio state for 20 years.

In turn, Ohio, with 20 electoral votes, prides itself in being “America’s bellwether” because “we have a fairly evenly divided electorate” in terms of political affiliation, degree of urbanization, and religion, “that flip-flops frequently,” said journalist Naymik.

And in Ohio, the population of Afro-Americans who are mostly expected to vote for Obama is only around 13 percent.

If the two-out-of-three pattern in favor of McCain continued until the polling stations closed at 7:30 p.m. today, then the prediction of Lynn de Rothschild had come true: that on election day the following sectors would come out for McCain:

  • The independents who were swaying away from McCain but were now “coming back.”
  • The Republican conservative base who were not sure of McCain’s religious faith but was “energized” when he picked Sarah Palin as running mate.
  • The “religious Americans,” who are disturbed by Obama’s pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage position.

Rothschild, a supporter of Hillary Clinton and until recently was a member of the Democratic National Committee, is now supporting Republican McCain. She thought that the polls before the election were “inaccurate” because people who favored McCain were “not talking to the media because the media has created the idea that if you were educated and sophisticated, you would be supportive of Obama.”

We could sense that resentment toward media’s drumbeating for Obama. “I am not embarrassed to say it, I voted for John McCain,” said Marilyn Lee, 70, a retired schoolteacher.

By today, too, the 14 percent, who were undecided and persuadable based on the Associated Press-Yahoo! News poll released four days before Election Day, would have made a choice.

 

If this coming out of erstwhile silent segments of the voting population, mostly for McCain, is happening across the US, McCain and Obama may be splitting the electoral votes evenly. And I’m imagining a scenario where there’s a tie and the controversy of the 2000 US presidential elections may happen again.

Americans don’t directly elect their president. Yes, they tick off their candidate’s name on the ballot, but the result of this popular vote will only serve to determine whose party wins in a particular state. The party that wins in that state gets to send its electors to the Electoral College. The number of electors varies from state to state, depending on the number of its congressional and Senate seats.

Since it’s the party that nominates these electors, the latter are expected to vote for the presidential candidate of their party. The Electoral College doesn’t convene until January 6, actually, when they officially elect the president, but results of the popular votes in the various states are used to determine whom the electors will vote.

The 50 states of the US have a total number of 538 electoral votes. A candidate has to get 270 votes to become president. If we subtract the number of states that are sure to go for the Republicans (called the red states) and those that are sure to go for the Democrats (the blue states), there will be 11 battleground states left.

In the last few days, we saw McCain and Obama concentrating their campaigns on these 11 states: Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. They don’t necessarily have many electoral votes, but when combined, their numbers can swing the results one way or another.

Three weeks ago when the economic downturn started in the US, all these states begun to lean heavily for Obama, not because Obama has offered any specific solution to the problem, but because people were angry at the Bush administration for having let this happen. And President Bush happens to be a Republican like McCain.

Three days before Election Day, however, Indiana and Missouri looked like they were leaning toward McCain. Colorado, New Hampshire, and New Mexico looked difficult for McCain, but the other states seemed still very iffy for Obama.

A day before November 4, it looked like McCain had added North Carolina back to his column, aside from Indiana and Missouri. So Indiana is 11, Missouri is 11, and North Carolina is 15. That's 37 in addition to his solid red states of 134. If we add the 29 votes of McCain-leaning states, he would now have 200.

Obama, for his part, has 220 sure votes from the solid blue states. Add to that the 14 from the Obama-leaning states and he would have 234 votes.

This leaves us with Florida, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

Although Obama is ahead in Florida (1.8%), Ohio (3.2%), and Virginia (4.3%), but his lead is marginal that I think McCain still has a better than even chance of taking these three states. If he wins, Florida will give him 27, Ohio 20, and Virginia 13. So that's an additional 60 to his 200. He now has 260.

Obama, meanwhile, will get New Hampshire with 4, New Mexico with 5, and Nevada with 5. That's a total of 14 to be added to his 234. He now has 248. Obama is ahead in New Hampshire (10.6%), New Mexico (7.3%), and Nevada (6.2%).

That leaves the candidates with two tossup states: Colorado with 9 (and where Obama is ahead by 5.5%) and Pennsylvania with 21 (where Obama is ahead by 7.6%).

If McCain gets Colorado and Obama gets Pennsylvania, they both end up with 269. What could be more thrilling?

In 2000, Republican George W. Bush narrowly won against Democrat Al Gore—the former with 271 electoral votes, and the latter with 266. The slim margin stemmed from the controversy of who should get Florida’s 25 votes. The winner could not be determined accurately because there was some glitch in the computers used in the scanning of ballots in Florida.

Florida’s 25 were given to Bush (thus his winning number). In a recount later, when Bush was already sitting as president, it turned out that it was Gore who won Florida and should have been the president.

That—or an upset by McCain, or a tie--is surely a nightmare that Obama wouldn’t want to happen.

 ***

Obama’s black supporters actually fear that the close count might happen again. Observers are even predicting “enormous racial tension” if and when Obama loses. Time magazine captured that sentiment among black Americans in the article “What if Obama loses?”

But his supporters are apparently feeling that, unlike in last Sunday when they were so fired up in the rally where Orator Obama spoke, their candidate is not having a smooth ride.

In that rally (which we attended standing in the cold and the in rain for four hours), every time Obama said he would bring about change, the crowd cheered. Every time he talked about hope, they cheered. In every mention of realizing the American dream, they cheered.

My problem with that is, Obama was not saying anything specific—what kind of changes and how, what is he asking the voters to pin their hopes on, what exact form has that proverbial American dream taken?

The bigger problem is, the enthusiastic crowd apparently didn’t care about specifics. They wanted to trust that Obama can turn things around for them.

Which I find perplexing. Yes, the man is intelligent, audacious, and charismatic. But, as any outsider like me should easily see, he’s not had enough exposure in government as to comprehend the complexities that being president of the most powerful country in the world entails.

Obama only served as state senator in Illinois (almost similar to a provincial board member in the Philippines) for four years (1996-2000), lost in his first bid to become the Democratic congressional candidate in 2000, and only won as member of the US Senate (similar to our Senate in the Philippines) in 2004. He’s been in the national scene for only four years.

It’s like saying neophyte senators Chiz Escudero and Alan Cayetano are ripe for the presidency in 2010 just because they are intelligent, clearly ambitious, and are crowd drawers. (Come to think of it, Chiz and Alan are even better—they were congressmen for nine years before becoming senators.)

Joyce Dankovich, 61, who voted for Obama, acknowledged that “he’s young and inexperienced.” She just took comfort in the fact that “he’s smart enough to choose the right persons” to help him govern when he’s president.

Kirk Mack Jr., principal of the black-dominated Shaw High School Leadership Academy (whose students assisted at the polling stations), was less categorical. “I’d like Obama to win. But if he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Who would have expected that itt (his candidacy) would come this far?”

 ***

Obama’s own running mate, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, effectively acknowledged his own doubts about Obama’s preparedness for the job. In a speech weeks ago, Biden said he’s very sure that in the first six months of an Obama presidency, there will be “a generated…international crisis” because the world would like to “test the mettle of this guy.”

He qualified, though, that Obama’s “challengers…will find out this guy’s got steel in his spine.”

Democratic strategist and pollster Doug Schoen acknowledged that Biden’s comment was “probably an uncomfortable truth.” He was quoted in news reports: “But he probably is going to be tested and he hasn’t had experience and I’d like to think he’ll be up to the task with whatever we face.”

I get the impression that some of Obama’s supporters are increasingly realizing that he is not prepared for the job, but they have been too emotionally invested in his campaign to admit it. So they are forwarding what sounds to me like early excuses.

In the last few days, I’ve been hearing in increasing frequency the line that Obama, if elected, may not be able to deliver on his promise of effecting change because he will be inheriting a lot of problems from President George W. Bush. I’d say that’s reasonable, but it’s also a convenient way to condition the public’s mind for a possible failure of Obama’s presidency.

 ***

If Obama wins, it will bewilder me that majority of Americans are willing to install an inexperienced man at a time when they’re on the verge of an economic depression and their troops are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Okay, so a Filipino is not exactly the best person to tell that to the Americans. We elected an actor with zero knowledge in governance in 2004 (don’t get me started on why somebody else is sitting) and put up with a clueless widow for six years from 1986 to 1992. Look where they brought our country.

We elected as president in 1998 a former mayor, senator, and vice president who never failed to excite the masses when he spoke, and he dismantled all the economic reforms put in place by his predecessor in a record six months. Our current president is a Georgetown-educated economics professor, and we have more families not eating three times a day.

But can we blame the Americans? The Bush Bungle must have stung them so deeply that they are willing to bite the bullet with a candidate who probably has yet to figure out what specifically is that “change we can believe in,” as his slogan goes.

The common American may think that the US elections are none of any foreigner’s business. The sad thing is, it is the Philippines’ business—the world’s business—what happens to the US after the November 4 elections.

We may not have any free trade agreement with the US that Obama is threatening to unilaterally review (how he can force the other countries to renegotiate if they don’t want to is something still unclear to many in our group). We may not have nuclear weapons in some underground laboratory that can make our military relations with the US one based on mistrust.

But we do have some four million kababayan in the US for whom we cannot provide jobs if a badly run America forces them into an exodus home, we mold (poison?) our youth’s minds with American books and Hollywood movies, and we honestly have nowhere else to turn to if China bullies us any further over the Spratlys.

So this, too, is our election.

At Obama’s Sunday rally outside the Cleveland Convention Center, popular singer Bruce Springsteen did the front act. He recalled that it was in the same field that he sang for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s campaign. Kerry was perceived to be strong in Ohio in 2004, but lost that state to Bush by 2 percentage points.

“I’m glad they made me come back and didn’t think I was some kind of jinx,” Springsteen said. “This time, we’re winnin’.”


The author is observing the US campaigns and elections as a Jefferson fellow of the East-West Center.