The Plank

Mccain Brings Hope To Pennsylvania


There had been some pushback from McCain operatives about whether the Republican in fact intended to concede Colorado, as CNN had reported yesterday. In politics, however, money speaks louder than words, and the New York Times is now reporting that McCain may not spend further advertising monies in Colorado, as well as four states won by John Kerry in 2004:

who monitor advertising spending now put at five the number of states
where Senator John McCain is reducing his advertising – New Hampshire,
Wisconsin, Colorado, Maine and Minnesota.In essence, Mr.
McCain’s campaign has decided to spread the advertising time he bought
for the upcoming week in those states over the next two final weeks.While
station managers in the affected states said they were not ruling out
the possibility that Mr. McCain would pump money back in before
election day, on Nov. 4, the move represents a stark reordering of
priorities.Democrats were predicting Mr. McCain would use the
savings to increase his advertising in Pennsylvania and, possibly, Ohio
and Florida, all of which have become that much more vital should Mr.
McCain have to concede states like Colorado and Wisconsin.

that it's not just Colorado on the chopping block, but also Minnesota,
Wisconsin and New Hampshire. Michigan was conceded some weeks ago. Iowa
and New Mexico are on life support. Essentially, McCain seems to be
giving up on any path to victory that does not involve Pennsylvania --
a state that we presently project Barack Obama to win by 9.7 points.Al Giordano has a good theory about what McCain is up to:

here's what I think is going on at McCain strategy central: They're
getting tired of the daily drumbeat on cable TV news and by newspaper
pundits that says things like, "here are the six or seven swing states,
all of them voted for Bush in 2004, Obama is winning or tied in most of
them, and for McCain to win he has to run the table, taking every
single one of them or it's over."That message - that there is
only one narrow Electoral College path to victory for McCain, while
there are multiple ones for Obama - has cast a deathly spell over the
GOP base's enthusiasm, which is now being reflected in paltry early
voting numbers by Republican voters, especially in Nevada and North
Carolina. And so they're trying to offer the faithful a belief in the
suggestion that McCain, too, has multiple paths to win.The
senior staff seems to think it has convinced McCain to drop his
reluctance to play the race card, with trial balloons afloatin' that
Obama's ex-reverend will get an encore in the coming days in negative
ads and such.And if they're really going to go there - to try
to make the campaign about race and, specifically, some white people's
fears of pigmentation - then it would make total sense for McCain to
temporarily ignore Colorado, where that message ain't gonna hunt, and
shift focus to Appalachia and the South: Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio
and, yes, Pennsylvania and even Florida being the swing states where
racially charged politics have sometimes, in the past, worked for the
Republicans, or, in Appalachia, where they worked for the Clintons
during the primaries.

Actually, Al's theory is quite a
bit more nuanced than that, and deserves a read in its entirety; among
other things, Al thinks that McCain may be trying to use Pennsylvania,
a state where his numbers have nowhere to go but up, in order to create
a sense of "momentum" that may pay dividends in other states.But
if McCain's strategy is taken more at face value, it would seem to
imply -- as Al suggests -- a potential re-appearance by the Jeremiah
Wright All-Stars. That would conform with another detail reported in
the Times piece, which that the McCain campaign wants to control its
advertising message all for itself, rather than having to share with
the RNC:

But the McCain campaign also needs the extra
money to keep up with its current plans, due to a quiet decision it has
made that most voters will hardly notice.Until now, the
campaign has been teaming up with the Republican National Committee to
jointly produce a large percentage of its advertisements. By sharing
the costs down the middle, Team McCain has been able to basically
double the amount of advertisements it can run for its money.[...]The
campaign has started to phase out those ads in these final days,
deciding to stick to advertisements it can devote fully to Mr. McCain’s
campaign message. That will greatly disadvantage Mr. McCain as he
struggles to keep up with the far better funded Mr. Obama. But Mr.
McCain’s aides have clearly decided a trade of volume for greater
clarity is worth it.

There are real downsides to this: the
RNC has a lot more cash on hand than the McCain campaign does. Without
RNC assistance, McCain will be in no position to win a conventional air
war, even if he limits his expenditures to small number of states.Something
like a Jeremiah Wright ad, however, would receive lots of free air time
on afternoon talk shows and on the Internet, somewhat mitigating
McCain's cash disadvantage.The big problem with such a strategy, however, is this:


are the current numbers of registered and active Democrats, Republicans
and independents in Pennsylvania. Democrats make up more than half the
total -- 52 percent, in fact -- well outdistancing the Republican's 33
percent. Suppose that McCain were to split Pennsylvania's independents
with Obama and win Republicans 92-8. He would need to carry 23-24
percent of Pennsylvania's Democrats to win the state; George Bush
carried 15 percent.As we reported yesterday,
however, negative advertising does not seem to be a good strategy for
winning over lapsed Democrats; on the contrary, Democratic solidarity
has increased markedly in recent weeks, with Barack Obama now on target
to win as much support among his party any Democratic nominee has in
any recent election.Frankly, I think Al may be giving the
McCain campaign too much credit. My guess is that something like this
happened: they ran their usual set of internal polls over the weekend,
and saw themselves 5 points down in Colorado and Virginia. 8 points
down in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and 10 points down in Iowa and New
Mexico. But perhaps Pennsylvania came in at a -6 or something -- not
much worse than the others -- and they decided: why worry about all those states when we can worry about just this one.One of the things I emphasize at Baseball Prospectus
is the importance of honest self-assessment. A team can get itself into
tons of trouble by convincing itself it has 87-win talent -- making it
a fringe playoff contender -- when it fact it has 80-win talent --
making it an also-ran. The same lesson probably applies to internal
polling. In addition to the usual problems of optimism bias
-- and the unresolved question of whether internal polling is in fact
superior to public polling (especially for a campaign that is poor at
voter contact) -- campaigns sometimes forget that internal polls
contain of margin of error. If you're in the field in a dozen or more
states each weekend, you are all but certain to wind up with one or two
outliers. Perhaps Pennsylvania was such an outlier for John McCain.If
a campaign gets an internal poll that diverges from the consensus of
public polling, it needs to ask itself why the divergence exists. If it
cannot explain it, it should probably not treat the internal poll as
actionable.But as reported by the Los Angeles Times, the McCain campaign does not seem to have any particular reason why they think the public polls are wrong in Pennsylvania:

Political Director Mike Duhaime] said the campaign is operating three
dozen offices in the state and is making hundreds of thousands of phone
calls every week to identify and persuade potential GOP voters. The
data mining efforts are aimed at identifying former Hillary Clinton
supporters and independents who are prepared to consider McCain’s
message. He said the internal data is “trending” in McCain’s direction
and is showing “a lot of things” not apparent in the opinion polls.

Duhaime said McCain has drawn strong support from what he called a
Democrats for McCain movement in and around Scranton, in the state’s
western Rust Belt region. “That gives us optimism,” he said.

anticipates good news as well, he said, in the south and central part
of the state, near Harrisburg, York and Lancaster -– all cities that
the candidate, his wife, Cindy, or running mate Sarah Palin have visited in the last few days.

is the key phrase in that passage? "Anticipates good news". As in, the
McCain campaign does not have any particular idea how they're going to
win Pennsylvania, nor why the public polls have the state wrong --
they're just hoping their numbers are right, and hoping that something comes together for them.

 As a famous Democrat once said, of course, hope is not a strategy.

--Nate Silver 

Loading Related Articles...
The Plank
Article Tools

Show all 13 comments

You must be a subscriber to post comments. Subscribe today.