The Tide Turns -- And Quickly

Washington Matters

The Tide Turns -- And Quickly

John McCain has suddenly vaulted ahead of Barack Obama, taking as much as a 10 point lead in one poll. The turnaround comes in the wake of his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate -- and the successful Republican convention. Convention bounces can be notoriously fickle, hardly reliable as an indicator of the outcome. But this is no simple convention bounce.

The McCain surge shows up in several polls (a sign that it's real) but most significantly in a new USA Today/ Gallup Poll that shows McCain leading Obama among registered voters, 50-46, and among likely voters, 54-44. The daily tracking polls by Gallup and Rasmussen also show McCain gaining rapidly, though not by the margin of the USA Today poll.

Significantly, the polls also show that the selection of Palin has energized the Republican base and helped close the enthusiasm gap, which had been one of Obama's biggest advantages. That suggests McCain will get a boost in volunteers and turnout and word-of-mouth persuasion. And McCain's gains will translate into closer congressional contests in many states, limiting GOP losses in what was beginning to look like a big year for Democrats.

It's too early to really explain all of this but if a gathering to talk politics I attended this weekend is any indication, a few conclusions can be drawn. For some time, it's been clear that Obama has had trouble "closing the deal," and the selection of Palin peeled off a lot of people who may have been leaning toward Obama but hadn't committed. They probably haven't committed to McCain either -- at least not yet -- but Obama is going to have to do something soon to get them back.


But some of them will never come back. One speaker I heard this weekend, Jeffrey Birnbaum, recently named as a managing editor of The Washington Times (a newspaper that is certainly no friend of Obama's) said bluntly that racism is playing an important role.  A significant number of whites readily tell canvassers that they just won't vote for an African American under any conditions, he said.

I think in some ways the Palin choice freed people from feeling guilty about letting race influence their decision. Voting Republican -- and proving you're not a sexist -- is almost as good as voting Democratic and proving you're not a racist. Before the comments fly, let me say that I'm not at all suggesting that racism is the whole reason -- or even the biggest reason -- for Obama's problems. It's impossible to know how many votes Obama will lose because of his skin color, but no one can deny that he'll lose some.

McCain is also scoring points by attacking the press and by hitting hard on the tax issue, accusing Obama of planning to raise everyone's taxes, a statement that is blatantly false. So far, Obama has been ineffective in countering those charges, and the USA Today poll shows his 19-point advantage on the economy has shrunk to just 3 points. He'll have to do a lot better in the next eight weeks if he's going to have any chance of winning.